Middle East

Syrians feeling abandoned as unending war grinds on

Syrian Kurdish refugees crossing into Turkey, September 2014 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Millions of Syrians have fled since the start of the war four years ago

Imagine that almost all of the eight million people living in London had seen their homes destroyed by constant bombardment and fighting.

Add to that 3.8 million others seeking refuge in neighbouring countries and unable to return.

This is the scale of the humanitarian crisis facing Syrians, four years since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began.

Another 220,000 people have lost their lives - but nowadays it takes a large-scale incident for the killings to even register in the news.

Since the failure of the Geneva II peace talks in early 2014 and the capture of large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq by Islamic State later that year, the country's political opposition has been largely ignored, if not abandoned.

Syria's war

220,000

killed since crisis began

  • 76,000 Syrians killed in 2014 - the deadliest year

  • 4.8m people in need live in areas defined as hard to reach

  • 5.6m children in need of aid

  • 1.6m children not attending school

Reuters

The main opposition bloc, Syria's National Coalition, has seen funding from Western powers dry up and now relies on Turkey's help, along with some donations from Qatar for its humanitarian work.

The US has promised to train and arm 5,000 "moderate" rebels to combat not Syria but Islamic State (IS).

Many of them were in the US-backed Hazzm Movement, which disbanded after losing 200 fighters last month in clashes with the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front.

"The world has left us to fight the battle on the ground with no support," Nagham Ghadri, vice-president of the National Coalition said in Istanbul.

'Green light'

Months of US-led coalition air strikes in Syria have failed to prevent IS militants from expanding their control of the country.

Every Syrian you talk to in Turkey tells you the same thing - that the world has abandoned them and that the battle against IS is only making it worse.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Some 220,000 people have been killed in the conflict

Many believe that the US-led coalition is waging a war against Sunni Islam while wilfully ignoring crimes against humanity committed by Syrian government forces and Iranian-backed Shia militiamen.

"The US has never been serious about supporting the moderate rebels," said Manhal Barish, a journalist who had just arrived in the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep from Aleppo.

"Today, the Americans want to build an army to fight IS and be loyal to them. They want this army to work with [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad to fight IS and al-Qaeda.

"The silence and lack of support by the [pro-opposition] Friends of Syria gave the green light to extremists groups to eliminate the Free Syrian Army. The world is watching and then they ask why there is extremism?"

Support network

Syrians have come to realise that the conflict in their country is not going to end any time soon.

The reality is particularly hard to swallow for those displaced from their homes or living in refugee camps.

Civil society organisations have stepped in to help, and there are now hundreds operating both inside Syria and neighbouring countries.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Much of Syria has been devastated by the conflict, with no end of the war in sight

Kesh Malek (Checkmate), established in Gazientep almost a year ago to empower young opposition supporters, promotes education projects across the border.

"We have 10 schools and cultural centres, all in Syria," said Marrcel Shahwaro, a Kesh Malek Christian activist from Aleppo.

Ash-Sham Care is another example of a civil society organisation that has been helping Syrians to help themselves.

"Syrians have a lot of dignity, and like learning how to fish rather than being given fish," said its founder, Oscar Bergamin.

The Swiss-funded group is conducting a survey among Syrians living in Gazientep to assess their needs.

Breaking-point

Umm Abdul Rahman, a mother-of-four from Aleppo who heads the working group at Ash-Sham Care, said extremism was jeopardising her efforts to empower people.

The frustration and violence was driving everyone mad, she said, especially youths. Among those who want to join Islamic State is her 14-year-old son.

Image caption Umm Abdul Rahman is concerned that her son may be drawn into Islamic State's ranks

"The pressure we are all under and the violence we are subjected to will make everyone explode and push people to extremism. This will not be limited to Syria's borders only."

Umm Abdul Rahman has so far managed to dissuade her son from joining IS, but she warned: "If the world keeps ignoring the source of the problem, which is Bashar al-Assad, extremism will increase."

"The world should help us end the war. Everyone should sit at the table, including Assad and IS. Otherwise the war will reach every country."

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