Words by Brooke Bicher-Gershel (Alaska, USA)
Far from the view of our American eyes, across the globe in Syria, innocent victims are faced with potential death on a daily basis and for any number of reasons. Families are starving to death due to a severe lack of resources and no access to funds to purchase the limited food that may exist in their town. We don’t see their hollow eyes and emaciated bodies, as our mainstream media limits the information and dictates the narrative that we receive regarding the Syrian Civil War. Bombing campaigns perpetrated by Bashar al-Assad and his allies, claim many innocent lives. We have seen hospitals bombed, something we cannot even comprehend occurring on U.S. soil. Our foreign military intervention is also a cause of death in Syria, as there is no way to ensure innocent victims are not in the way of our bombing campaigns; despite the claims that we conduct “targeted strikes”. These are not “terrorists”, but mothers, fathers, children, loved ones, who are being lost to this war. Chemical weapon attacks are very real and have caused some of the most horrifying and heartbreaking of deaths. Many of those losing their lives are young children, whose underdeveloped bodies simply cannot handle the strain of war.
In the United States, we have long had the luxury of not worrying about bombs falling upon us or chemical weapons attacks suffocating the breath out of our children, burning their respiratory systems from the inside out. We go about our daily lives with the atrocities taking place across the globe barely on our personal radar; as they say, “out of sight, out of mind”. As it does not directly impact our daily lives and we each carry our own burdens; few folks have the wherewithal to diligently monitor the events occurring in a country that is so far away and foreign to them. And with the massive amount of misinformation that gets disseminated via social media and through mainstream media sources, it requires time and research to get a clear vision of what the Syrian citizens are experiencing. When we do the research, many Americans are debating these events on an academic level and losing sight of the human beings most severely impacted by these atrocities. They are facing a genocide, while much of the world turns a blind eye. Will we look back on our apathy and inaction with shame?
In 2016, I became friends with Manaf, a Syrian refugee who was living in a refugee camp in Turkey and awaiting the designation of “official refugee status” with the hope of eventually being granted asylum and escaping the deplorable conditions of the fenced camps they were surviving within. He and his wife had already experienced the challenges of escaping their war torn country, facing the gun barrels of heartless smugglers who exploit the already impossible situation to their own benefit. This is a prevalent scenario both in Syria and Turkey. They spent cold nights on the ground, hiding in forests until daylight when their journey could commence. His wife delivered their first two children in the confines of a tent within the camps. They did not have enough food to provide her with the necessary nutrients to be able to breast feed her daughters. The situation was dire.
Due to the unlivable conditions of the camps, Manaf decided that they must leave Turkey and attempt to reach Greece. He wanted his wife and children to have their basic needs fulfilled, things as simple as food to eat and clothes to wear. They braved the crossing of the Aegean Sea three times before they were successful in crossing. The first two times, the rubber raft they were on was captured by the Turkish Maritime Police, and they were imprisoned in cattle pens for merely attempting to leave Turkey. Eventually they made it to Greek waters and were greeted with a NATO ship that took them the remainder of the way to land. However, this was not the end of their journey or struggles.
In 2017, Manaf and his immediate family were granted asylum in Germany. Unfortunately, his parents and several siblings remain in the Idlib province of Syria. Over the last two years we have become rather close; he is my brother and his daughters, my nieces. I have dedicated my time, energy and any available income to helping support them and assist in getting his and his wife’s families out of Syria and into the relative safety of the camps, until they too can be granted asylum and reunited with one another. With the help of a crowdfunding campaign, I have had the privilege of helping fund the escape of his disabled brother, sister-in-law and their children from the dangers faced each day they remained in Syria. Unfortunately, his parents are struggling to survive and he does not have an income to provide them assistance. His father calls begging for help and my friend is left feeling powerless to the threat that his parents and sisters face.
I choose to believe that we, as Americans, are generally a compassionate people. We do not want to see the suffering and atrocity of our fellow human beings. We can see our own children in the faces of those dying in Syria, just as we see them in the children who suffer without drinking water in Flint, Michigan. But we also are insulated from these dangers and struggle to understand the acts of a country so foreign to our own. We do not understand why a government would attack its own people, which prompts some to question the validity of these occurrences. We remove the emotion so that we may instead debate these events on an intellectual level. We analyze how our own military intervention into this crisis might affect American lives, at which point, we lose sight of the suffering of the Syrian people. I am here seeking to redress this and bring our attention back to the innocent lives being lost. I ask that you do not turn away from our Syrian brothers and sisters. They are just like us; they love their spouses and children, they want the youth to experience peace, they want their families to be able to follow their dreams. And not only can we help, we have a responsibility to help them. Please, consider donating to campaigns that help the people of Syria directly and those which aid in facilitating the process of asylum. Speak to your legislators about how we are serving those members of our human family in dire need assistance and refuge from the danger faced. Get out and vote. Share knowledge and get active in the refugee community. Together, we can save innocent lives and help them to have a future to build.
GoFundMe Link: https://www.gofundme.com/helpmySyrianRefugeeFamily
Contributor’s Biography: Brooke Bicher-Gershel is an Alaskan born activist, who is currently pursuing their Juris Doctorate in NYC. Brooke’s undergraduate work was in Critical Race Theory and the study of genocide and they have chosen to focus their legal education around International Human Rights and the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities. They are dedicated to working with marginalized and disenfranchised communities, with the goal of making high end legal aid accessible to these populations. Brooke dedicates her time to raising money for Syrian refugee families, seeking to empower the oppressed and bringing attention to injustice at all turns.