It is mind boggling to think that Syria is smaller than Victoria but has a population roughly the same as Australia. Over one hundred thousand people have died there in the current conflict. Almost two million are running for their lives.
The President’s name is Bashar al-Assad, who looks like this:
He and his father before him have held power in Syria for over 40 years.
Oh, and Syria is here:
So the civil war began about two years ago when disorganised, undertrained and disconnected groups of militia got armed and fired up. There are different theories as to what started it. Sections of Syrian people have been angry at the government for ages, but it turned nasty when a group of children were jailed for anti-government graffiti. Some were killed in custody. Protests against this and the failure of the government to bring economic reform to the people of Syria spread across the country. In April 2011, protesters were shot at by the Syrian Army and this blew things up even more. These disparate groups of insurgents pulled together and formed the Free Syrian Army (FSA) a few months later. Heaps of soldiers from the Syrian Army defected to the FSA. This was in part because they were given orders to fire at civilian protesters and refused. Some were shot by their own army for refusing orders.
The FSA states that its goal is to remove Assad from power and protect demonstrating civilians. But it has also been accused of getting into bed with extremist Jihadist Muslims who have bolstered their ranks and their arsenal. The FSA has also been accused of war crimes such as kidnappings and the torture and execution of people it says are aligned with or working for the government.
So what are the crimes of the Assad regime? In order to clear FSA held areas of civilians, the regime has bombed, massacred, bulldozed and ballistic missiled them out. Indiscriminate air strikes have killed thousands. Underground detention and torture chambers. It is now thought that it was probably the Assad government that directly or indirectly ordered the gassing of well over 1000 people a week or so ago. Including babies. Displacing the population means the FSA might have won the area, but they end up losing the people. Hence, we have a massive refugee situation. About 2 million of them. A massive one million in 2013 alone and 75% of them are women and children.
I don’t understand all the intricacies of civil war. It seems that this is, of course very complicated and that there is evil on both sides and freedom seekers in there somewhere. I am sorry that this is a very elementary piece of writing. Such a short explanation cannot possibly do justice to all the issues here. I fervently hope it does not trivialise them. I don’t know the history dating back decades. I never thought much about Syria until the past couple of years. But I do think about this girl. Quite a bit.
She, gasping for breath, panted I’m alive, I’m alive over and over. In shock that she survived the chemical attack. How will she ever recover from that day?
I’m ashamed that we will never welcome her here in Australia with warm, open arms. We will never welcome her or any member of her family. There are two million refugees running for their lives and some of them will find their way onto leaky boats headed for our unwelcoming shores.
A woman presses against the wire gate. Two small children cling to her chador, and she is alternately begging and demanding from the G4S guard. Finally, someone pulls her inside, the children like limpets. She’s taken to an office where veiled women interview her. She arrived three days ago with four children under 12, she has no husband, she has no extended family, and here she begins to weep. They are alone; the children press against her like bookends, and she says she is also six months pregnant and doesn’t want to have her baby here, in the white desert. She draws a deep breath, angrily wipes her eyes and whispers: “I am humiliated.”
After all of that trauma, after the journey from hell, running for her life from a hell that used to be her home, she and her children cannot hope for a safe place here with us.
Turning away refugees is like the war on drugs. It’s pointless. There will be drugs. Deal with it, educate people, manage it as safely as you can. Boats won’t stop. Malevolent regimes will not stop. Refugees won’t stop. Come on Australia, can’t we do better than this? Aren’t we smarter than this? What gives us the right, why is it OUR country? Just because of an accident of birth? Goodness, we are SO lucky to be born here, it’s embarrassing. Think back Queenslanders to the dreadful floods of the past few years. Imagine if your rich neighbour on a hill, high and dry, said to you after your house was washed away, that no, you cannot come to me for help. Go and figure it out for yourself. Just imagine that.