For over five years now, my mornings begins the same way. Coffee, news updates on Syria, more coffee, more updates, followed by a walk; long enough, though no walk is long enough, to dispel the black cloud that has formed in my mind. It all starts with a headline:
Man charged with rape, premeditated murder of Syrian child
The headline is followed by a hesitant click:
Last Saturday, a Criminal Court prosecutor in Amman charged a man with premeditated murder and rape in connection with the brutal killing of a Syrian child …
This in turn makes an instant connection with yet another earlier headline:
Refugee fled Syria violence only to die in the London fire
Syrian refugee brutally killed by gang of migrants in savage attack in Germany
And yet another:
Pregnant Syrian Refugee Raped And Murdered In Turkey
At this point the connections have become too overwhelming. I swallow the rest of my coffee, and head out for my walk.
At first, my anger is directed towards Syria’s neighbors. I lived in Jordan for nearly eight years, and I truly felt at home. There is so much that I respect and admire about the Hashemite Kingdom, but none of my Jordanian friends have been able to convincingly explain to me why the majority of Syrians are confined to camps. The logic shared is reminiscent of the logic Syrian officials would use to explain why Palestinian Syrians are only eligible to a travel document and have limited rights to ownership. ‘We are protecting their distinct identity and ensuring that they would one day return!’ In the same vain, my Jordanians friends explain that the camps ensure that Syrian refugees will return to Syria. More honest explanations speak about the enormous economic weight on a country with limited resources like Jordan. Security concerns, no doubt, are at the forefront of Jordan’s interaction with Syrian refugees, and as much as I respect these concerns, something about how Syrians are being treated, about the dichotomy between the Western notables who visit these camps and the Jordanian notables who don’t – something about all of this is wrong.
Compared to Lebanon, however, Jordan seems like the land of opportunity. Syrian refugees in Lebanon, which has the highest concentration of Syrian refugees per capita in the world, are actually forbidden to live in formal camps and, rather than being allowed and helped to integrate in society, which is clearly the ideal scenario for a refugee, are left to try to survive in unofficial settlements which only reinforce the fragility of the already fragile.
Turkey, by far, provides the best conditions for Syrian refugees, but even in Turkey, Syrians are often treated with fear and suspicion. The camps are far superior in their conditions, but they remain refugee camps with all that brings with it.
My anger then shifts to rich Arab countries which have spent billions on arms and rebel groups in Syria, but none are more strict when it comes to welcoming Syrian refugees. The mere thought of what these billions of dollars could have done to help those who ran away from death and destruction is startling. At the very least, they could have supported countries like Jordan and Lebanon host them in a more honorable manner.
Towards the end of my walk, I find myself recalling all the times we had hoped for the US, and even later for Russia, to create some type of safe zone for Syrians in Syria. Six years later, no such zone has been created, and we are still trying to understand what exactly ‘deconfliction-zones’ mean. Will they guarantee that Syrians will no longer associate the sky with barrels and shrapnel? Will they guarantee that the most basic conditions for Syrian refugees to return are secured?
Where exactly is one to find comfort? What possible perspective or equation can help me see this in a more positive light?
I return to my desk and the first headline that appears on my screen provides a surreal ending to my morning:
Anarchists offer a lifeline for refugees in Greece
This time my click is less hesitant:
… conditions in the anarchist squats are much more humane. There’s little violence or crime, and refugees have better access to food, sanitation, and medical services. Their kids are in local schools, and they feel like they are a part of society ... for the anarchists, their work with refugees is just one step toward their ultimate goal — wholesale revolution.
I am finally capable of smiling. Thank you William Godwin, it didn’t occur to me to look in your direction!
*/Dr. Omar Imady was born in Damascus. He is presently a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Syrian Studies at the University of St Andrews.
The views & information contained in these posts & articles are strictly those of their authors who are solely responsible for their accuracy and should not be regarded as representing the Centre for Syrian Studies or the University of St Andrews.