Bustan al-Qasr is the last remaining crossing point between the rebel and regime-held sides of Aleppo. Snipers are rife and the atmosphere tense, yet hundreds are forced to use it every day to get to work, to study and buy food.
“Today, at about midday, I treated someone who had been shot in the arm,” Sam tells me. “He was a child, they usually are. I think that the snipers are aiming for kids, just kids.”
The above is an extract from a BBC report from inside the city of Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, situated in the north west of the country. This kind of eyewitness testimony on the appalling crimes being committed in the city is reminiscent of previous civil conflicts, such as the one in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Then it was Sarajevo which was at the heart of the sniper stories, where “sniper alley” entered the lexicon both in the city and the wider international community. Then, as now in Aleppo, children comprised a large number of the casualties.
You read these kind of reports and it is difficult to comprehend the sheer brutality at work. This is what happens in civil conflicts, they are often far more bloody and cruel than intra-state conflicts. There have been many scholarly explanations for why this is the case, (see Kalvays work on previous enmities between the people involved and the logical use of violence or Zhukov the difficulty in identifying who the enemy is). Whichever is the primary reason for why the violence is so great, the effects are clear in Syria. The head of the UN Commission for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, has been quite explicit on just how bad and wide-ranging the conflict in Syria is;
“This is the most brutal, even with very brutal conflicts elsewhere,” Mr Guterres has said. “If one looks at the impact on the population, or the percentage of the total population in need, I have no doubt that since the end of the Cold War it is the worst,”
In numbers the situation is even more difficult to comprehend. The UN estimates that at least 100,000 Syrians have died since the conflict began in March 2011. As of today there are 1,709,722 registered Syrian refugees, which is roughly the same as the populations of Birmingham (Britain’s second largest city) and Leeds (the third largest city in Britain), combined. The estimates for the number of internally displaced Syrians, i.e. those who have been forced to flee their homes because of the violence or fear of violence but have stayed within Syria, is 4,250,000. Over six million of a population of 22 million are refugees of this conflict. The everyday lives of these people and their futures have been shattered by a conflict in which the majority are just trying to survive and are not not involved in the violence.
Despite and because of this immense suffering, Syrians are not alone. Myriad local and international organisations are trying to alleviate the suffering. One Syrian/British-led charity, Syria Relief, is on the ground within the country, a permission which is denied to many international organisations by the Syrian government. They are helping with the immediate humanitarian needs of the displaced persons with the provision of food, water, shelter and medical help as well as looking to long-term development, recently setting up a school in the country.
If you are concerned with the crisis in Syria, please give a little bit of money to a charity helping the Syrian people, either through my hike up Snowden which is raising money for Syria Relief, the UN Refugee Agency or to any of the other charities involved in Syria, a list of which can be found by searching through the Charity Commission.
Jonathan Woodrow Martin