Monday, 14 September 2015

Barrel bombs and oppression: The roots of the Syrian refugee crisis

Syrian rebels fire tank and missiles against Syrian regime forces [file photo]

Amr Salahi 

 'Increasingly, the conflict in Syria is being portrayed as one between the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and the Daesh militant group, with the former being portrayed as the lesser of two evils. The civil society organisations which still work on the ground overtly in areas held by moderate opposition forces and covertly in areas held by the Assad regime and Daesh, have been largely ignored by the media and the voices of refugees have not been heard.
Oqba Fayyad, a Syrian journalist from the town of Qusair in Homs Province says he was forced to flee his hometown in May 2013, just before it was overrun by Syrian regime forces and their Hezbollah allies. He says that in the month before it fell to the regime, hundreds of people in this town of 5,000 were killed in the regime's aerial and ground attacks, which he says, included "barrel bombs, cluster bombs, and napalm… just before they stormed the town, they used vacuum bombs which can suck out the oxygen of any building, turning it into dust in seconds". He had no choice but to flee.
He says "For three days, we travelled in the forests with no food or water, carrying the injured on our backs, with their wounds festering. We managed to reach the [opposition-held] towns in the Qalamoun area". However, they did not receive a warm welcome there. The inhabitants had seen the brutality of the assault on Qusair and now feared that if they took in the refugees, a similar fate would befall them. Clashes broke out and they fled once again to Arsal in Lebanon where they were subjected to a harsh regime by the local authorities, including a curfew after 6 pm. He eventually managed to contact the Swedish consulate in Lebanon, and was able to gain asylum in Sweden.
However, Syrians are not only fleeing regime bombardment of opposition-held areas. Sometimes, when an area is captured by opposition forces, some of the inhabitants flee to areas still controlled by the regime. Usually they fear what the regime will do to the areas held by rebels, which includes bombardment similar to the one described by Fayyad or, in areas surrounded by regime controlled territory, prolonged sieges which lead to the starvation of inhabitants.
Mohamad Manla is a Syrian opposition activist who has been a refugee in Germany for nearly three years. He fled from the Salah al-Din area of Aleppo when it captured by rebels from Syrian regime forces in July 2012, to western Aleppo, which stayed in regime hands. Salah al-Din later became one of the most dangerous places in the world as the Syrian regime pounded it and other rebel-held areas of Aleppo with barrel bombs.
However, rather than finding safety in regime territory, whenever Manla went out, he was stopped at security checkpoints, and threatened by regime soldiers and agents who accused him of loyalty to the rebels, simply because his ID card said he was from an opposition-held area. Two months later, he fled once again, to Egypt, and from there to Germany.'

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