General Manager GOAL
It is now seven years since a civil war in Syria started to tear that country apart.
In March 2011, protests began against the Assad family, which had ruled the country since 1970.
Assad’s response was brutal. Political protest was met with military might and a spiral of violence began which has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent Syrians.
Of the 20 million people living in Syria at the outbreak of the war, over 5 million have fled the country in search of refuge, while 6 million more are internally displaced.
It is important to remember that Syria, notwithstanding the undemocratic nature of the Assad regime, was an advanced sophisticated society before the war began.
In 2010, Syria was visited by more tourists than Australia.
GOAL employs nearly 400 Syrian staff and they are highly educated and articulate people, with the same hopes and aspirations for themselves and their children as we have.
The Assad regime had long been repressive and it is somewhat ironic to recall that the accession of Bashar al – Assad to succeed his father was greeted in the west as the hopeful dawn of a new liberal era. This London educated dentist, with his British wife, would surely bring Syria slowly down the road towards democratic values, it was thought.
While there are no actors in the Syrian conflict that can be classified as anything but malignant, it is acknowledged widely that Assad’s violence has been entirely disproportionate from the outset and that he and his associates are guilty of myriad war crimes.
The violence of others has sought to match that of Assad, carrying with it ensuing innocent victims as well.
We have seen consistent and constant barrel bomb attacks and airstrikes on medical facilities, bakeries, water stations and market places. We have seen deliberate targeting of civilians as they attend the funerals of their lost loved ones.
Early in the war it was apparent that Syria would become a proxy war for multiple regional and world powers.
Assad comes from the minority Alawi community, a branch of Shi’a Islam. The majority of Syrians are Sunni. Iran, determined to create an arc of Shi’a influence under its direction, has played a major role in the war from the outset.
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, determined to counter the growing power of Iran, financed and armed rebel groups, many of them Islamist in nature. Islamist forces, including ISIS but not just ISIS, readily joined in the sectarian nature of the conflict and sought to use the crisis to achieve power themselves.
Meanwhile the Kurds, long denied their national aspirations by Syria, used the opportunity to carve out an autonomous region, latterly with US support as they became a bulwark against ISIS.
The chaos and violence escalated and deepened with regional powers investing more and more in their own side while world powers refused to intervene, their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan having made military interventions deeply politically unpopular at home.
Russia’s intervention in late 2015 shifted the war decisively in Assad’s favour, and has allowed him to regain territory lost since the outset of the war.
One could go on for some time describing the various twists and turns of the last seven years, chronicling the paucity and duplicity of the various powers but the only important story is that of the people of Syria.
It has been said recently that there are no words left to describe the seemingly unending violence and depredation inflicted daily on the Syrian people.
In an attempt to find a way of talking about the war that will resonate, perhaps numbers will work where words cannot.
These seven years have led to the deaths of over 500,000 Syrians.
So far during 2018, eleven children have died every day.
Over 5 million Syrians have fled the country in search of refuge – overwhelmingly in the surrounding countries. 6 million more are displaced within Syria.
6,000 schools have been destroyed, leaving over 4 million Syrian children without access to education.
Life expectancy has dropped by 20 years in Syria, where 95% of people lack access to adequate healthcare.
Overall 13 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, including 5.3 million children, while close to 3 million people are trapped in besieged and hard-to-reach areas, where they are exposed daily to the horrors of war.
GOAL provides essential services including food, shelter and water to 750,000 people in the Idlib region, where more than half the population are people displaced from elsewhere in Syria.
The request we get most from our Syrian staff is that we do more to highlight the situation in Syria. They feel that the scale of the crisis is not appreciated around the world, because if it were, somebody somewhere would do something.
We learned through our own peace process that you make peace with your enemies, not your friends.
Peace talks have been attempted at least 30 times, without success.
A ceasefire on all sides is required now, a real one.
An unconditional one.
Nothing more and nothing less is acceptable.