From the news desk

The Syrian crisis, a humanitarian perspective

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This is the first in a series of articles by VOC reporter Yaseen Kippie, reflecting on his recent trip to the Syria-Turkey border 

On February 19th, I embarked on a profound and moving experience that reinforced my views on the political, socio-economic and inhumane conditions caused by a war utilising internationally recognized illegal weapons of war, clarifying a number of misconceptions.

Working as an independent media reporter for the Voice of the Cape radio, I joined a delegation of 12 representing the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) and the Darul Islam Zakah and Relief Funds (DAIZAF) distributing aid to the Syrian people on the Turkish-Syrian border. Collected through fundraising efforts in the Western Cape Muslim community, the aid reached over R1.5 million which was then used for essentials needed by the myriad of Syrian widows, orphans and injured civilians.

The MJC and DAIZAF packages reached thousands of families living in the three main cities on the Turkish-Syrian border, namely Urfa, Kilis and Reyhanlı. Today, these historical lands where prophets lived have now been turned to buzzing cities where over a million Syrian ‘guests’ – as they are referred to by the Turkish locals- live, either in cement-blocked alleys of buildings or in one of the thousands of caves in the Urfa mountainside, herding livestock.

The delegation, headed by the MJC president Shaykh Irfaan Abrahams, worked in conjunction with the IHH Humanitarian Organisation, the main relief organisation in Turkey.

Shaykh Irfan Abrahams, President of the Muslim Judicial Council

On our first day in Turkey, we visited the IHH head offices in the Fatih district of Istanbul. There we were briefed with regards to the program we were about to undergo. The intensity of the program was constantly highlighted by the focus on security consciousness expressed both by the delegation as well as the organisers.

Istanbul itself was filled with Syrian Refugees, with figures totalling 3.5 million in Turkey as a whole. The Syrian refugees we met in Istanbul on the first day and on our last day returning to South Africa were immensely dignified, despite them constituting a majority of Turkey’s homeless.

Armed with tissues for sale, the women and children asked us but to earn their own livelihood, with only a few outwardly begging for financial or dietary assistance. The words of a Syrian woman echoed in my ears, “Do not simply give us fish. Teach us how to fish.”

In the Syrian-bordered cities, we visited individual homes as mass distributions were a security risk due to possible attention from violent opposition. The only mass distribution we conducted was at the IHH original headquarters in Kilis, now turned into a school for Syrian orphans. These were packages given to the hundreds of mothers of these children, including baby biscuits, milk, formula, nappies as well as other food and hygiene hampers.

Our first stop was Urfa, the birthplace of Prophet Ibrahim. Following a briefing by the head of the city’s IHH branch as well as their narrative of the political condition (which I will retell as an article including my other political experiences on the trip), we visited the first family on our list.

Being the first time I have come into contact with someone outwardly affected by the consequences of war, it was a very bittersweet experience. Meeting little 7 year old Bilal, a young boy with no eyes due to a bomb detonated by the Syrian army, as well as his brother Ali, whose right armed had been removed at the same time, the only solace I had was the dignity these boys and their families held firm. We were fortunate enough to hand over their much needed Turkish passports they applied for a long time before, ensuring much needed medical assistance.

Brothers Ali and Bilal

Limited by space, I am unable to tell even one-tenth of the stories I have garnered. Malik, a Syrian man I met at IHH’s Kilis branch applying for a job at the organisation told me how his son Ahmad was killed in front of him. There is not one Syrian alive who has not been affected by the Syrian crisis. Bloodshed, terminal illness, loss of family and even mental health emergencies have been on an all-time high.

I met a man named Anas al-Bakoor in Reyhanli. He had come to Turkey a month ago to run an orphanage and school for 50 Syrian children with their 12 mothers. He spoke of a group connected to ISIS killing 70 of their best youth and students in the Syrian city of Hama.

These are but a few examples of the countless stories each and every Syrian affected by the war has to tell. Six years in, with a prior history of decades of oppression, they are exhausted by the on-going cruelty and tyranny they have witnessed and so many still live under.

The words of a Syrian father as he hugs his three sons, still resonates with me as I lay awake at night in the comfort of my bed.

“How can they sleep, bombing and assaulting little children and women, when they themselves have little children and women? Yet I feel a great sense of dignity, knowing that I am on the right side of history, adorned with mercy and blessings from God and His Messenger. The only thing that’s keeping me sane is that I see the Prophet SAW in my dreams.” VOC

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