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Column: Syrians are convinced they're considered 'expendable'... wouldn’t you be?

David Adams documents the often horrific experiences of ordinary Syrians caught up in the ongoing conflict. Time and again he hears tales of heartbreaking loss and suffering, from people who believe the world has forgotten them.

PART OF MY job in Syria is to document the horrific experiences of ordinary people caught in the middle of the ongoing bloody conflict. However, it often strikes me that I could largely fulfil my mission without ever leaving GOAL’s office in northern Syria. For nowhere are there sadder tales of loss and suffering than amongst my close friends and colleagues on the GOAL staff, who spend every working hour helping alleviate the pain of others.

Ali’s story

Ali was one of the first people GOAL recruited in Syria. A former student of architecture, he now holds quite a senior position in our 55-strong team.

The only time I have ever heard Ali swear was when he was telling me of the time an aerial bomb hit a small mosque in his town during Friday prayers, and killed more than 70 people: “My grandfather told me that at least the French respected a mosque. France is not even a Muslim country, but when we were fighting them for independence, if someone took refuge in a mosque, the French would not enter it. But these f…..s attack our mosques. They have no right to call themselves Muslim.”

The attack took place only a matter of weeks before GOAL arrived to set up base in Ali’s hometown. A larger mosque is still standing, but it too has been badly damaged by bombs, rockets and gunfire.

Ali’s grandfather was probably speaking shortly after his own family had been touched by the violence. His son (Ali’s father) had been walking in the street with a nephew when he was shot by a sniper. The bullet passed through him and struck the younger man (Ali’s cousin), killing them both. “My mother and aunt will never recover,” Ali says, matter-of-factly.

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Image: GOAL

Jasmine’s story

Jasmine is a member of one of GOAL’s aid distribution teams. I had known her a few months before she happened to mention that she holds a degree in law. Intrigued, I asked her about her studies, and during our chat the story of her best friend Anna emerged: “Like me, Anna was a law student at Aleppo University. She was a brilliant student, the best in our year. One day in 2011 Anna was taking part in a protest march, when someone bumped up against her and she felt a sharp pain in her side. She had been stabbed by an undercover agent. It was such a small wound, with hardly any blood, that Anna thought she would be alright. But later she collapsed, and some friends brought her back to the university. Anna died that night. She was only 20. We wrapped her body in a piece of carpet so the police wouldn’t find her, and smuggled her out of the university, and brought her home to her parents. Anna was very quiet and never talked about politics, so we were surprised that she went to the demonstration. But her parents told us that her brother had been shot and killed by the army, and Anna was very angry about it. She had never told anyone because the family was afraid of reprisals. They didn’t want Anna’s death made public either.”

Jasmine is weeping at this point, and I apologise for raising such painful memories. “No, no! Don’t be sorry, David. I wanted to tell you about Anna.”

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Image: GOAL

Amira’s story

Amira, one of GOAL’s team leaders, is originally from Damascus. Her father was an airline pilot. He was arrested at Damascus airport nearly two years ago and held on unspecified charges. He has not been heard of since. The family fled north to escape the harassment – and probably worse – that would inevitably follow his arrest. “Our father will come back to us, Insha’Allah. And someday we will return to Damascus. I am a daughter of Damascus, and I want to go home,” she says simply.

And so the stories go on. Ahmed’s wife was shot by a sniper as she walked in the street with their three children. She is now paralysed from the neck down. Mohammed lost two brothers in the mosque attack mentioned above.

Over the past 10 months or so, many of my colleagues have recounted something of their lives to me, and I never fail to be shocked and saddened by what they have been through.

And new hurts are being created all the time.

On Friday past, during a team training session, Mustapha had suddenly to leave us, having just received word that his older brother had been shot and killed.

More than 100,000 people have been killed

The latest UN estimate is that during the past two-and-a-half years more than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria (the true figure is probably closer to twice that number). Virtually every one of these people lost his or her life to so-called conventional weapons, yet the world chooses to ignore this, and instead obsesses about chemical weapons.

Is it any wonder that every Syrian I speak to, including my GOAL colleagues, has become convinced that they and their loved ones are considered expendable. Wouldn’t you, in similar circumstances?

The names and positions of the GOAL staff in this article have been changed to protect them and their families from possible reprisals. David Adams is a Media & PR Officer at GOAL.

GOAL is one of only a few aid agencies that is working inside Syria. The organisation has been delivering aid since last October, and is now supplying a monthly food ration to 120,000 people every month. GOAL is also distributing vouchers to 133,000 people per month. These vouchers can be redeemed at certain local stores for goods of the recipients’ choice. Please visit www.goal.ie to donate, or find out more about GOAL’s programmes.

Syria UN figures:

  • At least 100,000 people have been killed
  • Close to 8 million people require urgent humanitarian assistance (more than half of them children)
  • More than 4.25 million people are internally displaced (driven from their homes by the violence)

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