This post was first published on Migration Persuasions.
“We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families” is a book written by Philip Gourevitchon about the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. It is also the opening line of letter a group of pastors wrote to Pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s operations in western Rwanda, as they took refuge with hundreds of other families at hospital in Mugonero. The following day they were massacred due to the tacit consent and inaction of Pastor Ntakirutimana, but also the rest of the international community. In the years following the genocide Ntakirutimana was eventually convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the international community was not.
Twenty-two years later we are witnessing a 5 year bloody civil war in Syria hit a critical turning point as pro-Assad forces close in on Eastern Aleppo, and tens of thousands civilians who are trapped in the city wish to tell us that they will soon be killed with their families. On Tuesday we saw a flood of testimonies on social media of civilians and rebel fighters pleading for safe passage out of Aleppo for fear that they would become casualties of Russian led airstrikes or a target of Assad’s military ground forces who were storming the city. The UNHCR reported 82 civilians were killed in summary executions on Monday by Syrian soldiers and Iraqi militiamen, among them 11 women and 13 children.
On Tuesday evening a Turkey and Russia backed ceasefire negotiated a safe passage for both civilians and rebels to the rebel controlled province of Syria, Idlib. Idlib is a rebel controlled front held by the group know as Al-Nusra, a faction of Al-Qaeda in Syria. It is important to note that Al-Nursa is not part of the original Free Syrian Army that rebelled against Assad in 2011 rather is a force that grew more powerful due to the destabilization in Iraq and Syria and sees the Assad regime as a puppet of foreign intervention. By Wednesday morning the ceasefire has already fallen apart with shelling from Russian and Syrian military forces resuming. The iconic green buses that were meant to ferry civilians to “safety” in a region controlled by ISIS terrorists remain stalled in their tracks and civilians who are in fear of collapsing buildings sleep in the streets.
What is happening in Aleppo did not occur over night, many factors contributed: Decades of US intervention in the Middle East, including the catastrophic invasion of Iraq which sent hundreds of thousands of Iraqi soldiers home with their weapons after Paul Bremer dismantled the Iraqi National Guard despite the opposition from his military advisors, which eventually contributed to the formation of the Islamic State. Russia´s historic ties with the Assad family and it´s strategic use of south-west Syria to gain naval base access to the Mediterranean. Iran´s fears of another Sunni government taking power in the Middle East and it´s support of Assad and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Turkey who currently is home to 2.7 million Syrian refugees has been a critical player in the conflict with it’s contentious relation with the Assad regime and training of Syrian fighters back in 2011. But like the Rwandan genocide, for those who are stuck in an agonizing wait to see if they will live to the next day with their families, the complex political realities and the long history of foreign intervention is meaningless to them right now.
With humanitarian corridors to Aleppo being closed down for months residents have been living without basic food and medical supplies and it is estimated that close to 37,000 civilians have fled since the intensification of fighting. Despite the outcry from countries like the United States and the European Union this is largely being seen as a failure of the international community and the international rule of law. Yet, this feeling is all to familiar these days as we see the systems and institutions that we have rested our faith in to resolve these issues being powerless to stop them. The fall of Aleppo to pro-Assad forces has all but handed over a fractured country to ISIS and back into the hands of the Assad regime. A political solution to this conflict is now further out of reach and what was expected to be a long and protracted humanitarian emergency has just gotten worse and longer.
International institutions have failed in their ability to prevent this, but that does not mean we should fail the Syrian people. According to The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs the total funding for the Syrian Humanitarian Response is only 51% funded. Now is the time we must donate, knowing that crisis is only beginning. Now is the time to contact your representatives asking them for an immediate diplomatic response to the Syrian aggressions in Aleppo, but to also ask them to increase your countries refugee ceilings and to direct more funding towards resettlement work. International systems and institutions are not perfect, nor will they ever be, but we hold a collective responsibility during times like these to act in the ways that we are powerful. So be powerful.
Below are a list of organizations that need your funding and are doing great work. Please share and donate:
The International Rescue Committee was founded by Albert Einstein and is one the oldest organizations working with refugees. They are currently in Syria working on providing emergency supplies with a particular focus on women and children.
MSF send doctors and urgently needed medical supplies to refugee camps around Syria. They work literally saving lives in some of the most dangerous places in the world.
The DRC has one the largest ground operations around Syria and is a key organization providing cross-sector responses to the refugee crisis.
Ambulances from the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent have begun operation to evacuate wounded people out of Aleppo after a ceasefire was reached late Wednesday night, reports The Guardian. In addition, 5000 civilians and rebels are being evacuated through a 20km humanitarian corridor to Idlib. The deal also gives humanitarian access and evacuation routes to the wounded in the villages of Fau and Kefraya, two villages in the Idlib provinces and that are being attacked by rebel forces.
Sailesh Naidu has worked in the humanitarian and public policy sector for over ten years. He is currently an Alexander Von Humboldt German Chancellor’s Fellow based in Berlin researching the social inclusion of refugee youth. His research is hosted at FEZ-Berlin and is funded through the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs.