SYRIA entered its seventh consecutive year of civil war yesterday, on a day when a suicide bomber killed at least 30 people and injured many others after detonating an explosive vest inside the main judicial building in the capital Damascus.
The bombing in the Justice Palace, near the famous and crowded Hamidiyeh market, was the latest in a spate of explosions and suicide attacks targeting government-controlled areas.
More than 400,000 people have been killed and more than 11 million have been displaced during the bitter conflict, which began in March 2011 as a popular uprising against President Bashar Assad’s rule. But it quickly descended into a full-blown civil war, and the resulting chaos allowed al-Qaeda and later Daesh to gain a foothold in the war-torn nation.
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As the anniversary passed, the UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, and charities urged the international community to redouble its support to help offset the continued, intense suffering of millions of innocent civilians.
“Syria is at a crossroads,” said Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “Unless drastic measures are taken to shore up peace and security for Syria, the situation will worsen.”
More than 13.5 million people need humanitarian aid in Syria; 6.3 million are displaced internally; hundreds of thousands have made perilous sea voyages seeking sanctuary; nearly three million under-fives have grown up knowing nothing but conflict; and 4.9 million – the majority of them women and children – are refugees in neighbouring states, placing host communities under huge strain as they shoulder the social, economic and political fallout.
“Ultimately, Syria’s conflict isn’t about numbers – it’s about people,” Grandi said. “Families have been torn apart, innocent civilians killed, houses destroyed, businesses and livelihoods shattered. It’s a collective failure.”
The charity Christian Aid said that when the conflict started, nobody could have known it would become the biggest humanitarian and refugee crisis of our time.
Life is a daily struggle for many families who have little or no money and the charity’s teams have been on the ground since the conflict began.
Last year, more than a million Syrians received essentials to help them survive the cold winter months, while more than four million people received basic relief items such as food, medicine, bedding and utensils. Christian Aid also helped nearly five million Syrian refugees and those hosting them with protection and assistance, including education, health care and shelter.
Six years on from the start of the war, refugees are struggling to survive, with many forced to leave their homes, living in poverty, and unable to feed their children or continue their education.
Frances Guy, Middle East head at Christian Aid, said: “Today, six years on we owe Syrians under siege and under fire the respect of remembering their daily horrors and urge world leaders to put in that extra effort to bring an end to this suffering.
“Six years of brutal civil war have left millions of people stranded in hard to reach areas. Six years during which the world has watched the medieval tactics of siege and starvation. Six years where children have not been to school, where neighbouring countries have strained to match the demands on their hospitality that the rest of the world tries to ignore. The current ceasefire is clearly not working. Syria and the world needs a real ceasefire to help all Syrians breathe a little.”
One Christian Aid partner told of events in a rural Damascus town from which 20,000 people fled in two weeks: “After five years they have moved a lot, those who fled in these last weeks have already moved three times before.
“You become a nomad, you flee for your life. But it is not like you go to a safer place – you flee, come back home if it is safe, and if not you keep on moving. At the end of the day, there is nothing bright on the horizon.”
The story of eight-year-old Wafaa Keyari graphically illustrates the horrors of war. She was at home in the battered Sakhour district of eastern Aleppo two years ago when an explosion destroyed the family home and severely burned her face and body.
“We had a gas cylinder in our home,” she said. “When the house was shelled, it exploded. I was next to it. My father and I were burned and a man died.”
Wafaa, her parents and her seven older siblings are now homeless and have been living in a shelter in western Aleppo for four months.
The girl is still haunted by the bomb that set her apart from other children: “You know, I was wearing wool clothes, like the ones I am wearing now, they got stuck to me.
“When they took me to the hospital, they were pulling them off my skin.
“It hurt so much, they didn’t even use anaesthetic – they just pulled it off.”
Her family must remain in their temporary shelter for now, surviving on the aid they receive from the UNHCR and its NGO partners. There is, however, one bright spot for Wafaa. Fighting in Aleppo prevented her from starting school, but now she is enrolled in classes set up by charities at the shelter.
In the past month, Wafaa has also been to see doctors in Damascus, who are considering plastic surgery to repair some of her scarring.
How much they can do is uncertain, but she is excited by the mere possibility.
“I want to get better, and be happy in life and not be in need of anything,” she said, adding that the incident had not changed her. “No. I am still the same nice girl,” she said.