Published on 27 Nov 2013

Syria’s politics are infecting its humanitarian crisis

I asked the little girl in the green velour tracksuit what life was like in Barzeh, the besieged suburb of Damascus which used to be her home.

“There was fighting and shelling all the time,” she said. “And I didn’t have friends to play with.”


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Maybe her parents wouldn’t let her play in the street because of the danger that a mortar would fall. Maybe other families had already left the suburb for somewhere safer. Last year her family fled to the neighbouring area, which is still under government control.

I met her in a noisy after-school class for displaced kids. They were as lively and giggly as any bunch of eight-year-olds anywhere in the world, but these children had witnessed terrible things in their home areas.

“There was no life there, everything was dead, ” said a little boy. “All the people there were mourning their children who had been killed.”

The cycle of misery in the Middle East has moved round. The centre where I met the children was established in 2008 for refugees who had fled from Iraq. Now the Iraqis have gone back home, because Syria is even more dangerous.

The UN estimates that fighting has forced 8 million Syrians out of their homes. Two million have fled over the borders, but 6 million have remained in Syria, sleeping in the houses of friends or relatives, or packed into mosques, schools and community halls.

At least the UN and non-governmental organisations can help those who have been displaced into central Damascus. The government is refusing access to rebel-held suburbs surrounding the capital. Over the summer, people survived by growing vegetables but they can’t do that in the winter.

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“It’s like the Romans when they cut water and food supply to make a town surrender,” said Khaled Erksoussi, Operations Manager for the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. Both sides, he believes, use humanitarian aid for political gain.

His proudly neutral organisation negotiates agreements with the government and rebel commanders but often Red Crescent volunteers living in communities on either side of the many frontlines have to persuade whoever holds sway to let aid in.

“Sometimes it comes down to the guy on the checkpoint,” said Mr Erksoussi. “He says: ‘those people inside killed my brother, my father, my mother, I will never let you deliver food to the people who are shooting me’.”

This morning President Assad’s political advisor Bouthaina Shabaan denied that the regime was using food as a weapon. The blame, she told me, lay entirely with Al Qaeda backed ‘terrorists’ who were fighting the government.

“No-one loves the Syrian people more than we do,” she said.

Those struggling to survive in areas besieged by government forces might find that very hard to believe. All wars are cruel, but in Syria neither side is showing mercy.

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3 reader comments

  1. nehad ismail says:

    I have seen your interview with Buthaina Shaaban. This Syrian Lady is a pathological liar. In the Middle East she is called (Buthaina Shaaban al-Sahaf). Al Sahaf was Saddam Hussein’s Minister of Information (Liar-in-Chief) in 2003. So I don’t believe a single word she says. This woman claimed in August that the victims of the chemical attack were brought from the coastal area to the area attacked by Sarin Gas.

  2. Philip Edwards says:

    Your recent “more balanced” reporting kids nobody.

    You have used this tragedy for nothing more than furtherance of a corrupt agenda manufactured outside Syria and pushed by media puppets like you.

    Every “report” you front implies not only that Assad and his gangsters instigated the Civil War, but they are to blame for every atrocity. As usual, you simply weight your “reports” with one sided accusations and carefully chosen language and phrases – for instance the anti-Assad forces are still “rebels,” not “insurgents,” not “terrorists,” all this in spite of the knowledge that they couldn’t exist without foreign mercenaries and religious fanatics.

    But worse than that is your use of omission as a propaganda weapon. There has been no reporting worth the name of the anti-Assad groups, who pays them, their numbers and where they are in action, and hardly any of their atrocities. Nor have you reported on the presence of US and Brit “special forces” of the type who were caught with their trousers round their ankles in Libya.

    Assad is as much a dictator as all the other regimes you so studiously avoid in the Middle East, those who harbour Western military bases against the wishes of the populace. Those who launched this war against him are as gulity as he is. They are mass murdering terrorists of the worst type. And it is “journalists” like you who help them along.

    No wonder Shabaan held you in obvious contempt. The day you use the same hectoring style against the government representatives of the USA, Britain, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar and all the other hoodlums is the day you might just start to regain some credibility.

    But I wouldn’t make book on it. Not if your previous record is anything to go by.

  3. Lemog says:

    What has happened, and continues to happen, in Syria is a crime against humanity. What was a relatively stable prosperous and secular country, where women were free to work, drive, dress how they pleased and religious practice was protected by law was attacked by terrorists intent on overthrowing the current regime and replacing it with a religious dictatorship. These terrorists, armed by arab states and with tacit encouragement by western governments are resposible for murdering thousands of Syrian people and the destruction of Syrian society. The sheer hypocrisy of our goverment makes me ashamed, they pontificate about human rights, ranting against Assad, whilst carefully avoiding any criticism of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, Uganda and so on. Syria is the Coalitions Iraq

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