Everyone remembers the horrifying picture of a 3-year-old Syrian boy’s corpse found on a beach. The scene epitomised the situation for ordinary people in Syria. But the boy and others like him are no ordinary people. We are.
We live in protected bubbles and only temporarily feel the effects of atrocities and suffering. As a society, we observe the outside from the warmth and comfort of our own bubble, too frightened to intervene once and for all. When thousands of these extraordinary-by-circumstance and desperate people flee their country, risking their lives, our reaction is refuse them entry, lest our bubble should burst.
I didn’t ask to be born in Europe, in peacetime, I just was, and that’s the luck of the draw. In the same way, thousands of young Syrians didn’t ask to be born in Syria. They just were. They are paying the price for mistakes made at the highest level both there and here in the West. Mistakes based on unfounded religious fanaticism and intolerance, together with self-vested financial and political interests of Western governments. However, the fact Arab governments come and go, directly or indirectly, helped by foreign powers and businesses, does not reflect the true atrocious and inhumane nature of the prevailing context in the Arab world. The true stories, the ones that should affect us to the bone, come from men, women, and children who live ordinary lives in extraordinary circumstances.
This is one story. The incredible situation for one Syrian dentist. I don’t know him, but that didn’t stop identifying with him, strongly. After reading his story, immediately, I sent money to an organisation that helps Syrians. This man is, for all intents and purposes, a colleague of mine. We practice the same profession and, if Lady Luck had turned the other way, he could have been born in the UK, and I in Syria.
Muhammad Darwish, 26, lives in Madaya, a small mountain town located in Syria’s Idlib province, near the Lebanese border. The town has been under siege by pro-government forces for over 18 months. It is encircled by 12.000 landmines and 65 guard positions manned by the Syrian army. Up to 40,000 people are trapped and starving to death. According to local sources, “people are dying in slow motion”. Muhammad works with a veterinarian. Together, the only 2 people left capable of giving medical attention to the severely injured and starving are them. They were taught the basics by doctors. Basic medical necessities, including anaesthetics, are practically non-existent, and the hospital itself is located in a makeshift building.
The only help available is through a WhatsApp group, which is comprised of Syrian-American doctors from the USA. Even then, the connection cannot take place inside the “operating room” due to the lack of an internet signal. The presence of the group is important. For difficult operations, Muhammad sends photos of the situation and obtains direct help from his American colleagues. This occurred recently when they had to perform a laparotomy in order to remove a gunshot bullet. Muhammad and his colleague had contacted the Red Cross in the hope that the casualty would be transferred in order to receive adequate treatment, but the help never arrived.
Many of the operations are carried out on landmine victims ,who have to be amputated. However, a significant number of caesarean sections are carried out because women are too weak to give birth.
It is incredible that, although the UN officials were aware of the preoccupying situation in and around Madaya, the town was not listed as one of the besieged areas in the UN’s 2015 report on the application of the Security Council’s resolutions concerning Syria. It was only at the beginning of 2016 that the town was listed and became eligible for aid. According to Muhammad, even today, the arrival of a humanitarian convoy remains a sporadic event.
For this young dentist, turned into a makeshift surgeon, there is no possibility of leaving Madaya, even if he wanted to leave it. The odds of him being killed or maimed in attempting to flee the region are too high. He has seen too many die or become invalids in attempting to escape from this nightmare. His courage is there for everyone to see.
“For now we are staying here and surviving. But don’t ask me how. It’s a miracle.”
– Muhammad Darwish
This account of the current situation is Madaya is disturbing. Maybe, though, it’s time for our Western societies to burst our bubble, see what is really happening every single day in Syria, and finally do something about it.