the situation in syria

the situation in syria

Briefly, what is the Syrian Civil War and refugee crisis, and who’s fighting who?


In a week’s time, the Syrian Civil War will have been raging for eight years. In that time, up to 1/2 a million Syrians have been killed amidst the fighting. A staggering 12 million have also been displaced both internally and externally (mostly to neighbouring countries), and around a million have sought asylum in Europe. In 2014, Syrian refugees became the world’s largest refugee group, overtaking Afghan refugees which had been the largest group for 30 years.

The refugee and humanitarian crisis that has spiralled out of control over the past 5 or so years is the product of raging war between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies (backed by Russia, Iran and Lebanese based Hezbollah) and a mix of anti-government rebel forces and groups opposed to his autocratic rule and intent on overthrowing the government. This loose coalition of anti-government groups have received backing from a mix of international players such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Turkey and a US-led coalition. With time, the conflict has also seen the heavy and brutal involvement of Islamists and Jihadists who have been fighting both pro-government and anti-government forces in a bid to win power for their own cause amidst the chaos, ISIL being the most prominent group here. Not only have ISIL added another caveat to the government/anti-government dichotomy, but they’ve also been in brutal conflict with other smaller Islamist/Jihadist groups also fighting for power (ISIL’s main opponent being the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front). A key issue for international backers like the US-led coalition, for example, has been ensuring support they do provide doesn’t end up in the hands of militants.


[source: wikimedia, Ggia]



How did things begin to start with?


Understanding the Arab Spring or Arab Uprising is key to understanding what initially set off the current volatility in Syria. In December 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a young Tunisian street vendor, set himself alight in protest of police harassment and autocracy in general. His death led to protests that soon exploded into the Tunisian Revolution. What spurred the momentum of the revolution was a multiplicity of factors, but broadly they were dissatisfaction with autocracy and corruption, youth unemployment and financial downturn: the same factors in other Arab countries (such as Syria) spurred the revolution to spread across the Arab World. By February, the Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak had been forced to stand down and protests in Libya against Gadaffi had erupted into the Libyan Civil War. In March, peaceful protests were starting to gain momentum in Syria. Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad’s response to protesters was hard-line, only furthering tensions and opposition. The establishment of the Free Syrian Army by a group of military defectors (set out to overthrow the government) in July 2011 and increasing conflict between protesters and government forces was the final tipping point for a slide into civil war.


[source: Russian MoD]


Back to the situation on the ground… what’s happening in Eastern Ghouta?


Eastern Ghouta has military significance for the Syrian government: it’s close to the Syrian capital Damascus and is one of the rebel’s last strong-holds near the capital. As such, the government have had it under siege since 2013, with the current humanitarian situation in the area being described by the UN as ‘hell on earth’. A recent article by the Independent detailed claims by a resident of Eastern Ghouta of both government and rebel forces preventing the fleeing of innocent civilians. 1 The result is 400,000 residents experiencing daily shelling and a rising death toll as a consequence, with very little supplies or humanitarian and medical assistance being able to enter to alleviate the suffering. A recent bombing campaign by Assad’s forces and his international supporters has seen 500 dead in just over a week, equating to one of the most deadly bombing campaigns in the whole war. 2 Chemical weapons have also been used by the Assad regime throughout the conflict, and reports from the ground claim the government’s attacks on Eastern Ghouta over recent weeks has once again involved the use of chlorine gas on civilians. Today alone, the White Helmets (a volunteer rescue group of the Syrian Civil Defense) reported 30 suffocation cases, including women and children, after another chemical weapon attack by the Assad regime.3 To say rescue groups are working in difficult conditions would be an understatement.

Attempts to impose a ceasefire to allow civilians to be evacuated from the area are under-way but have been notoriously difficult to impose between the two sides. Whilst the UN Security Council have demanded a 30 day ceasefire, nothing has come and Putin has put forth a daily five hour cease-fire instead, involving the creation of a humanitarian corridor in and out of the area (this was reportedly put into action February 27th). The international community has condemned it as inadequate, however, and civilians remain under attack and the situation chaotic and volatile. Yesterday, March 5th, saw the deaths of 94 civilians despite the supposed five hour pause. A UN aid convoy was forced to cut its mission short amidst the shelling. 4

Civilians and aid-workers alike are in emotional and physical turmoil and the conflict shows no signs of stopping.


What can we do about it?


Something we can all do from the comfort of our own homes is to stop acting as if we are blind to the situation. None of us have an excuse to be totally in the dark about this when we have so much information available at our fingertips. It is, however, hugely complicated and hard to discern what we need to know from the information available, so I’ll link some pages below that give a rough overview of what’s happening and other tangible ways to contribute.


WATCH (there are so many more videos online but I don’t want to over saturate you with information!):


  • This website has a great list of 16 amazing charities working with Syrian refugees, feel free to look through yourself and find one to support if you can.
  • Choose Love the shop is an amazing project established by the charity Help Refugees, an organisation doing incredible work with refugees from across the world, including Syria. The premise of the Choose Love shop is that you buy an item but you leave with nothing. The money you spend on an item (say, an emergency blanket, children’s boots, or hot food) will then go towards a similar item needed for a refugee. I just bought a collection of items on there, it’s super easy and straight forward. There are items for as little as £3.00 so anything you could spare is contributing to something real and tangible to someone who desperately needs it, especially throughout winter. Explore the Help Refugees website as it’s full of important information too.


None of this is simple and it would be easier for us to sweep it under the carpet. It’d be less emotionally taxing to switch off the TV and look away as screaming children fill our screens but as humans with souls and the ability to act with empathy, we can’t do that. They can’t just switch off the TV and hope it all disappears. I’m not an expert on this topic by any stretch, but we don’t have to be: being aware, offering what you can and simply raising awareness is still vitally important.


Kirstie x


Cover photo by UX Gun on Unsplash

  1. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/eastern-ghouta-syria-civilians-deaths-trapped-damascus-siege-assad-regime-rebels-killed-a8229211.html
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/26/syria-eastern-ghouta-assad-forces-un-ceasefire
  3. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-43300293
  4. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-43300293

10 thoughts on “the situation in syria”

  • Meanwhile your “good-guys” government and its oh-so-caring coalition says nothing about the SAUDI’S complete destruction and genocide of Yemen using UK-made weapons. Red carpet for Prince MBS for his visit to London. I’m sure you hashtag #MeToo for Weinstien’s victims but not for the oppressed, gender-mutilated child brides of Saudi. That’s just their “culture” and as a hypocritical western girl we must not offend them right??

    You have a good heart, Kirstie but you need to look past the Western propaganda. The world is not black and white there are many shades of grey. There are never good guys in war and the innocent, poor people are always the losers. UK’s murderous government is just as evil as all the others.

    • Hi Cris, forgive me for being blunt but I find this comment offensive and misplaced. Absolutely none of what you just wrote refers to anything in my post. I didn’t discuss the politics of any of the external governments involved and I didn’t for a reason. All I’ve discussed is the basic facts of who’s on who’s side and then moved on to the refugee crisis to give general context to people unaware of the overall situation.

      I’ve studied history and international relations at a university level for three years, of which one of my main focuses was the Middle East. Saudi Arabia in particular was one of my areas of interest. I am more than aware of the problematic nature of Saudi-UK relations. I am more than aware that feminism must be totally inclusive for it to be fully fledged feminism. I really am confused as to why you’re making any of these comments when not one was related to my post. Maybe a misunderstanding?

      Thank you for thinking I have a good heart but I’d also appreciate if you recognised that I have the competency to be aware of everything that you’ve just patronisingly and unnecessarily pointed out x

      • I apologise for the tone of my message but it REALLY bothers me that someone as smart and kind-hearted as you would focus on the exact hotspot (Eastern Ghouta) that the western war machine WANTS us to focus on because it helps further their propaganda narrative of “evil Russia/Assad” and helps them get support of more cold war like policies. The US-led coalition doesn’t care about these humanitarian crises, they create and use them for the global proxy war between US/NATO and Russia. How many people are the US drone-bombing illegally around the world without any news coverage because it supports their war machine interests? How many terrorist organisations do the US directly arm?? I’m sure there’s no “gun control” there, no one checking that these kids are mentally stable and over 21 years old! But a school shooter in the US and a school shooter in Syria are different right?

        You can’t compare Syria with Norway, if you remove Assad and replace him with some western puppet it will probably turn out like another Libya/Iraq. 100 years of intervention by the west has ruined those countries (intentionally).

        There are so many other humanitarian crises in the world, stop focusing on the one that the western war machine wants us to just so they can blame Russia/Assad and provoke nuclear world war 3.

        • I’ll focus on the war and crisis that’s causing a dramatically mounting death toll whilst the vast majority know nothing of what’s happening. You can discuss how it’s part of a propaganda narrative all you want but the death toll isn’t being made up, the videos I’ve seen of Syrian nurses and doctors crying on the floor of hospitals in Eastern Ghouta aren’t made up. And yes I’m aware the same videos are coming from all over. I follow what the vast majority of humanitarian organisations are saying over government information, and the humanitarian groups are straightforward when discussing the stark reality of the on the ground situation.

          I’m very much aware of the complexity of western relations with some of the organisations and governments involved in this conflict, I wrote essays on it!! But that scope is too wide to be discussed here. A book could be written on this topic, but that’s not what I’m here to do. The reality is people are dying by the hundreds and thousands and my aim was to give people resources and the areas they can help or contribute to. And when you say ‘stop focusing’ on this conflict, I’d rather not ignore the slaughter of innocent civilians just because big powers have turned it into a proxy war, because the on the ground reality remains the same.

          Thank you for engaging with this post, I really do hope that you realise that I’m aware of everything you’re saying and to a large degree agree and am on your side. I hesitated about even writing this because of the ridiculous amount of nuances involved but I’d rather get shit from some and still educate a few to a degree. No doubt people will read this interaction and learn some more from our conversation too which I only see as a positive! Eplaining and detailing every nuance was beyond the remit of this post, and none of it takes away from the rising Syrian death toll and harsh reality of the refugee crisis. Detailing that was my main aim and I hope you recognise that. This isn’t a masters-level class debate (our comments may be but the post was intended to be kept straight forward!). Just because I have focused on this crisis in this post doesn’t detract from the others going on in the world.

          Thank you for the chat and hope you do see we are on the same wave-length more than you first thought perhaps?

          • I know we are on the same side Kirstie, we are both people who care about the world and the (good) people and we both know that it is always the poor innocent civilians that suffer in the crossfire of these international political power games.
            I just get frustrated because i know that the media only focuses on this one humanitarian (Eastern Ghouta) at the moment and ignores all the others because this story suits their narrative and is what they need to provoke Russia/Assad etc. If they cared about people the media wouldn’t be silent on all the other crises like Yemen/Somalia/Libya and even places like Venezuela and the Donbas region.
            The western war machine’s end goal is conflict with Russia and I don’t want that.

          • Also sorry, I didn’t mean to question you personally i just often lose my cool.

            I have real skin in the game, i have friends in Syria (and also coincidentally in Ukraine) and I know the whole “West=good, Russia/Assad=evil” media narrative is not true. It is of course far more complex as you know and the west has done a lot of damage in those regions over the last century.

            Thanks for writing the article though. I also appreciate your advocacy on environmental issues, keep it up.

  • I appreciated how well you presented all the facts, Kirstie! Especially giving your readers resources to read and watch (I’m all about that life) and of course, ending it with ways we can help is great. Rarely whenever I read an article about a crisis am I given any suggestions on practical ways to help.

    by you writing this article I’m sure it will reach numerous people and educate them on the extremely sad situation that’s taking place.

    You’ve studied this topic for a while, do you by chance see any light at the end of the tunnel?


    • Thank you Reagan, I’m glad you valued the post! Sadly as with most conflicts in the region, for a multiplicity of factors (big power involvement turning it into a proxy war, strategic importance of these countries to said big powers, under-lying and pervasive systemic issues – largely caused by the big powers!) wars of this kind and this scale never come to a neat end and are often on-going until an immense amount of destruction has been inflicted. Even if the war comes to an end it’s not to say the result will be positive (say if Assad is ousted and someone worse put in by western powers or by a successor to him) so it really is difficult. Like wise I’m not sure Europe will learn to handle the refugee crisis any better, and I’m sure we will see rising death tolls from refugees trying to cross the seas because keeping the crossings difficult benefits countries like England as it reduces the chance of people attempting it to start with…

      I don’t think it has to be total doom and gloom as no-one can predict the future, but history doesn’t suggest a quick neat end to the war will be on the immediate horizon x

      • Very thought provoking. Looking forward to reading more and gaining new knowledge of the subject over the summer when I have time to read books I want to read (thanks school). Any other books you specifically recommend on the topic that you didn’t already mention above? I’m a reader, so anything and everything would be great! Thanks!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: