By Yassamin Ansari
Yassamin Ansari is an International Relations major at Stanford University. She spent the fall of 2012 studying Arabic in Amman, Jordan, where she also reported as an independent journalist from the Zaatari Refugee Camp. Yassamin is also the Co-Chair of Syria Deeply On Campus. This post originally appeared as an op-ed on the Syria Deeply website.
The Syrians I have met are just like you. Or at least, they used to be.
Anas and Elham led ordinary lives in Daraa, Syria. Anas worked in the computer industry earning a decent salary, and Elham stayed at home raising their four children. During their leisure time, they watched soccer together and spent hours with their extended family. The life they once knew was beautiful and comfortable, and they were grateful for their health and safety.
More than a year later, their lives are unrecognizable. They fled from their hometown after war broke out in the city. The government burnt houses to the ground, soldiers violently raped native women and children, and men were brutally tortured and killed in front of their families.
During our first meeting in their tent at the Zaatari Refugee Camp, Anas willingly showed us footage on his old phone of one of the massive protests in Daraa. Thousands of people were marching through the city. Then, the video zoomed into several men holding three open coffins. Anas explained that the coffins were carrying his uncle and two nieces.
The atmosphere in the tent grew increasingly more somber, and Anas’s demeanor quickly regressed as he showed us the next picture, of his brother. He explained that the Syrian government broke into his brother’s home just a few weeks ago and took him away.
In other words, Anas’s brother is not coming back.
Anas glanced towards the two little girls sitting in the tent with us. His nieces, Lilian and Cewar—the ones who had survived—began to cry when they realized that the conversation was about their father. I sat there, paralyzed, biting my lip in an attempt to hold back tears as I watched the two girls sobbing over their father. For almost a minute, everyone was silent until the baby’s screams stirred us.
Regrettably, Anas’s story is not at all unique. There are 40,000 Syrian refugees living at the Zaatari Camp, with different versions of the same story. By what can only be described as a miracle, Zaatari’s residents survived one of the most horrific and brutal wars of the 21st century. And they lost literally everything along the way.
Each day at the camp, refugees receive a ration of bread and water, a measly amount not nearly enough to satisfy the hunger pangs. There is no sanitation, no electricity. The canvas tents are ill-equipped to provide protection from the cold winter.
Often, the children have no more than the clothes on their backs. Infections and disease are spreading rapidly amongst refugee children, who are particularly vulnerable to the freezing weather, and are living in close quarters within the camp.
I consider this a genocide. As long as politicians and world leaders make excuses and continue playing political games, thousands of Syrians will either be brutally murdered, or forced to flee from one hell to the next.
Syrian refugees are perpetually homeless. They have lost their former lives in Syria, and now they are alive, but barely living. Every day is nafs al-shay, nafs al-shay, the same thing, the same thing. As we plan for our future education, careers, and famlies, they can barely plan for tomorrow.
As college students, it is incredibly easy to get caught up with our daily lives, and forget to engage in the global crises that are affecting our world. We’re busy: we have boyfriends, final exams, and the latest episode of Breaking Bad to watch. Even if we do follow the news, most of us feel powerless to actually make a difference.
But as future leaders of this country and as global citizens of the world, we have an obligation to inform ourselves. We have a responsibility to partake in intellectual dialogue about the events going on in our country and around the world. And with technology at our fingertips, it’s easier than ever.
This is where Syria Deeply comes into play. As an innovative journalistic platform, Syria Deeply highlights important stories that are crucial to understanding the full picture of the conflict in Syria. But as student leaders, we want to take a step further by connecting you with other students around the country who are interested in getting informed.
In partnership with UNHCR (United Nations High Commisioner for Refugees), we are launching a nationwide campaign to raise money to provide more permanent housing for the Syrian refugees — Caravan Aid. The goal is to raise $15,000, which will provide five caravans to the most vulnerable refugees at the camp. To achieve this, we are building a growing network of college students around the U.S. to not only critically engage in the issue, but also to make a direct impact on the humanitarian crisis. The campaign starts today and will last until February 23rd. Spread the word, donate to the campaign, and be a part of this important cause that will help families—families like Anas’s—begin to rebuild a normal life.
For more information please visit our blog at www.caravanaid.org
To donate, visit www.indiegogo.com/caravanaid
And follow us on twitter @caravanaid
If you want to get involved with Syria Deeply On-Campus, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org