Today, as we launch our devastating report on the lack of food resources in Syria, Catherine Carter returns to the country’s borders to talk to refugees about a deepening crisis.
A year ago I visited a refugee settlement on the Syria border, and it changed everything for me.
I went there because my job is to meet families affected by emergencies – by wars, famines, floods, and to help them tell their story.
I went there expecting to find a familiar refugee story, one of families losing everything in a mad dash to safety, of an urgent need for food, water, medicine, shelter, education, protection. This is not to suggest that each refugee crisis is the same as the one before – far from it. Every one leaves a unique imprint on the humanitarians working there. But sadly, you do learn what to expect.
‘More important things to talk about’
However, nothing prepared me for what I found this time. Instead of a population in need of everything, I found families outraged by the international silence surrounding the conflict they had fled. Within hours of my arrival, children and their parents were showing me their torture scars, their pictures of loved ones brutally taken from them, and demanding to know why no-one was talking about it in the media. They watched Al Jazeera and BBC World, they knew it hadn’t been mentioned. They pinned me with accusing looks and asked why I was asking about food and water when the soul was being ripped from their country, and there were more important things to be talking about.
Save the Children listened, and released Untold Atrocities, a blistering collection of refugee testimonies on abuses perpetrated against children and youth inside Syria.
And now we’ve come full circle. One year later and I’m still speaking to refugees, building a picture of the humanitarian situation inside Syria. But this time the stories that are coming from Syria aren’t just about brutality, torture and massacres. They are now about food and water. It’s run out.
A diet of stale bread and weak tea
Syrian mothers tell me that they were relying on their stores of dry food and jam, but with many towns and villages under protracted siege, supplies couldn’t get in, and they couldn’t get out. Some had resorted to giving their children animal feed, others stale bread and weak tea. Forced to make dwindling supplies last as long as possible, families are now consuming just one meal a day. As a result, children are listless, sleeping through much of the day and night. When water is cut off, families’ only source of water is from streams, and it makes them sick. When they get sick, they can’t go to hospital, because there often aren’t any left, or the roads are blocked by men with guns, or by shells raining down.
A year ago, I asked refugees what had made them leave Syria. The answer was simple and horrifying. The massacres, the torture, the relentless barrage of shells. Now it’s two-fold. Hunger is also stalking Syria. What was a complex, brutal conflict is now also a growing humanitarian emergency.
Maryam*, mother of three, explained: “We eventually left when it was obvious there was no end in sight. We could not survive in such a place as Syria – we were existing between starvation and horror.”
*all names have been changed to protect identities