Posted on 05 April 2013.
Listen to the full piece:
As the conflict in Syria enters its third year, millions are still displaced and living in refugee camps on the borders or neighboring countries. Aid organizations say attention needs to be paid on the lasting impact it on Syrian. Some local Syrian Americans are returning to inner cities where violence is rampant and relief aid is scarce. Tenzin Shakya reports.
NARR: The Syrian conflict between President Bashar al-Assad’s military and the opposition group’s uprising has killed over 70,000 people. Nearly 6000 of those reported dead are children. A recent report released by Save the Children says the war has hit the children particularly hard.
UENUMA: It really is a children’s crisis, but it’s easy for their suffering to go un-noticed.
NARR: Save the Children’s Francine Uenuma says for those who’ve survived, four out of five have lost a family member. Many of them in the refugee camps have seen the war firsthand.
UENUMA: When they first cross over they depict very violent things. These children have experienced, shellings and bombings and violence that no child at that age should experience.
NARR: Uenuma says you can see the effect when the children draw what they’ve seen.
UENEMA: There’s one drawing that a Syrian refugee child did, where you see big tanks and helicopters and things in the air and you see men holding weapons, something over their shoulder. What’s sad is that next to it, you see a small stick figure lying on the ground.
NARR: Much of every day life is on hold for refugees. In some cities such as the Aleppo, 6 percent of children are going to school. Uenuma says those figures are startling, because as recently as two years ago Syria had one of the highest education rates in the region.
UNEMA: A lot of the refugees that I have spoken to, they left Syria because of the danger and because of the struggle to survive. It is not primarily driven by politics it is because, they like everybody in Syria they are suffering from the conflict.
NARR: Most aid organizations have to work along the restricted government-held areas, and along the borders. Individuals can cross the border more easily than large organizations. That’s where Syrian Americans like Mohammad Khairullah steps in. He’s the mayor of Prospects Park in New Jersey, just north of Paterson where many Syrians live. In this YouTube video he thanks local donors for helping him get baby formula inside Syria.
ACT YOUTUBE: Thank you for your generosity and your contribution. You’re helping feed children for two months.
NARR: He says he’s raised over $20,000 and is heading back to his hometown, Aleppo, later this year. Khairullah left Syria with his parents when he was five years old. The conflict then, in the late 80’s and early 90’s was different but similar in many ways. Particularly seen through the eyes of a child.
KHAIRULLAH : To this day, I remember the tanks in the streets. I remember hearing airplanes flying over. You’d hear the gunshots I remember asking where my father was, it is very difficult looking for your father at night and not finding him, so imagine these kids who will never see their parents.
NARR: Khairullah relives those memories every time he sees pictures of children killed in the conflict. He says it’s a constant reminder for him and reinforces his drive to go back and help his country.
KHAIRULLAH: A lot of the relief organizations are doing their work along the borders where it’s safer for them. A city like Aleppo that has over four million people, not much aid is getting there. We have to help them out.
NARR: Mohammed says its not just about bare necessities. For him, it’s about protecting the future of his country and fighting the oppressive regime.
KHAIRULLAH : This is the majority of the Syrian people seeking their freedom. People have to defend themselves. Human Rights are universal. They don’t apply in one country and not the other.
While aid groups continue to work around the borders, Khairullah says he’ll keep going back to Syria for as long as it takes. Tenzin Shakya for Columbia Radio News.