New York, 26 March 2021
After marking the tenth anniversary of the Syria crisis earlier this month, the United Nations, together with the European Union, is organizing the Brussels V Conference on 29 and 30 March to raise money for relief operations in Syria and across the region.
Over the past two days, I spoke with people across much of Syria to hear first-hand about their daily lives and hopes for the future.
Here is what they told me. I hope world leaders carefully consider these voices. Names have been changed to protect their identities.
Dr. Hind, a physician in Menbij, treats residents and displaced families in eastern Aleppo. She warned that, even in secure areas, people are unable to access essential medical services: “We lack vaccines for children. We lack cancer treatments. We lack burn treatments. People must travel to Aleppo city for those treatments, but it’s very expensive and many families are unable to travel for security or political reasons.”
Tariq is an Iraqi resident of Al Hol Camp in Al-Hasakeh, where he lives with his wife, two children and four other family members. He confirmed to me that security at the camp continues to deteriorate: “I came to the camp in 2017. The situation was okay at that time, with food and everything else, but now it is bad in all aspects. Curfews are enforced from 3 p.m. onwards because of insecurity.”
Dr. Lina is a physician at Al Hol Camp, where she provides essential medical services. She stressed that women and girls face grave and growing dangers in the camp: “We are seeing terrifying phenomena in the camp. Girls are being married off at young ages. Polygamy is also becoming more common. Sexually transmitted infections are spreading.”
Nadir and his family of seven had been displaced multiple times before arriving in a camp near the Syria-Turkey border. He shared how the crisis forced his family to leave behind their former life for a much more uncertain one: “Our situation in Ma’arrat al-Nu’man was very good before the bombardment, before we fled. We had agricultural land that had to be abandoned. Now we are suffering. We have no medication. I feel like I am suffocating when sleeping.”
Qadira, a mother of three in western Aleppo, reminded me of the risks many families still face, especially near active front lines: “We are always afraid for our security because living in a tent is not safe. Three or four days ago there was shelling in the area — tents wouldn’t protect us at all. There is no shelter for us.”
Alia has been displaced four times, most recently to northern Aleppo. She emphasized to me that the conflict has created a crisis in education: “Children struggle to go to school. Many left while bombs were falling, with no chance to bring their documents. We need to think about the issue of school dropouts — it’s a disaster for Syria.”
Sharifa, a mother of four in northern Idleb, detailed the lengths to which her daughter must go to continue her studies: “My 13-year-old daughter goes to school, but she walks 2 kilometres each day. It takes her an hour to find other students to walk with because she does not feel safe alone, even from animals.”
Zaid, a father of 11 displaced to Menbij, explained the dilemmas families face just to eat. As he shared with me: “My children have had to leave school to help me support my family… I have a very small pension, but this is not enough for my 11 children.”
Zaina spoke with me from Idleb, with her five-month-old daughter. Adequate nutrition has been a challenge for her and her entire family, especially amid rising prices. She admitted that: “I have not had any meat for a year. I’ve forgotten the taste.”
Mirna and her family left central Idleb for western Aleppo in search of safety. After three years away from her home, she confided to me that: “I am only looking at the very near future — how do we handle the rent today, so we don’t have to move our tent? How do we afford food and water? How do we provide basic things for my children? I cannot think beyond that.”
These 10 people shared stories all too common across Syria. Families and strangers are forced together, not by choice but by a lack of alternatives. Mothers and fathers make daily sacrifices just to meet their families’ most basic needs. Many children forgo school so their families can afford daily expenses. Others can no longer — and may never — access a classroom.
The calls for more assistance are clear. I hope they will be heard as donors pledge to support the vulnerable people across Syria and the wider region.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.