BEIRUT: In over 40 countries, vigils are being held demanding that this be the last anniversary of the Syrian uprising marked by bloodshed, part of a global campaign, #withSyria.
The initiative was launched Thursday with a video by British graffiti artist Banksy that depicts a Syrian girl holding a red balloon – one of his trademark images – rising above the death and destruction in her home country, to a brighter future.
The campaign was supported by a coalition of 115 humanitarian and human rights groups from 24 countries, including Save the Children, Oxfam, Amnesty International and the International Rescue Committee.
They urged world leaders to ensure immediate action to enable aid to reach Syrians in need, and to allow the voices of ordinary Syrians to be heard in reconvened peace talks, whenever they may be.
Over 140,000 Syrians have been killed in the conflict thus far, 2.5 million have become refugees and over 6 million are internally displaced.
“Syria is enduring simultaneously both an exodus and a collapse.” said Bahey El Din Hasan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. “Some 9.3 million Syrians require humanitarian aid, more than the entire population of London. The anniversary of the conflict is the moment to show that we will turn the tide of this terrible tragedy.”
Oxfam’s chief executive, Mark Goldring said, “The international community has shown it can unite on Syria, but it must be consistent to ensure there is a halt to the bloodshed and an adequate aid response.”
“Countries must give generously to the U.N.’s humanitarian appeal for $6.5 billion, which is severely under-funded, and reconvene inclusive talks on the future of the country as a matter of urgency,” he added.
Mustafa Haid, director and founder of the Beirut-based civil education and art charity Dawlaty, which focuses solely on Syria, is one of the spokespeople for the #withSyria campaign.
He told The Daily Star that on this third anniversary of the conflict it was necessary to remind the international community that the war had not simply turned into a “battle between bad and worse.”
“By focusing on the war between the regime and the Islamists, the international society is trying to ignore the truth: that people that are still demanding freedom and that there is suffering on all sides,” Haid said.
The people that remain in Syria, he added, “are just survivors.”
Many of those peaceful demonstrators who initially took to the streets in 2011 are still taking part in protests across Syria, demanding justice and democracy, he said.
“But the media is not interested in that story, it isn’t sexy enough. So it receives no coverage. But these ordinary people remain. And they are now being targeted by both the regime and the Islamists.”
Haid, originally from the Aleppo countryside, knows this only too well. One sister, a volunteer with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, has been detained by the regime, and forced into a confession on TV. And a cousin, a media activist, has been abducted by the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria.
Asides from the urgent need for humanitarian access across Syria, Haid stressed the need for the international community to step up and inform all belligerents in the war that the day will come when they will be forced to face justice.
“Because the regime has escaped accountability for three years, this has encouraged other groups to carry out such crimes,” he said.
“They must know that whenever it will be, justice will come. And we cannot do it alone, the international community has to help. This is what the International Criminal Court was created for.”