Civilians like me, trapped in Idlib, Syria, are terrified that it is only a matter of time before their Northern enclave becomes the last and most brutal front in the crisis. Each day brings a new barrage of bombing, and fresh reports that an attack on the region surrounding the city of Idlib by government forces is imminent.
Just a few weeks ago, a woman I knew was killed along with her husband and five children in an airstrike. More than 116 other people also died that weekend and 70 others were injured in what was the worst period of bombing and shelling we have seen for some time.
It left the whole community reeling, but we all know things are only likely to get worse as the government gears up to retake the area, the last major region under rebel control. I cannot bear to think of the bloodshed and suffering this will cause. Experience has shown that civilians will probably be targeted first.
There are now at least three million people in Idlib. Half of this population is displaced from other areas in Syria, and nearly a quarter of a million were displaced this year. People are living in overcrowded camps, in dire need of food, water and health care, with no electricity, no running water and no sewerage system.
It’s hard to imagine just how much more the Syrian people can take. For seven years we have been bombed, besieged and forced to endure circumstances that do not befit human beings. I was born in Aleppo, and lived through the bombing attacks that started in 2012. I’ve seen hundreds of people being blown to bits in front of my eyes or buried alive under the rubble of destroyed buildings; things that no human being should ever witness. It was like the end of the Earth. And now I face the prospect of having to do it all again, knowing I will likely lose friends, family and maybe even my own life.
Even as we stare death in the face, however, I fear the international community will once again fail to act and allow one of the worst humanitarian crises in living memory to go unchallenged.
For seven years we have seen hospitals, markets, schools, mosques, people’s homes, whole cities turned to dust, and people’s bodies and minds broken beyond repair. While we bleed, world leaders respond with meek platitudes and statements of “concern”.
Where were they when whole families suffocated to death in chemical attacks, when barrages of barrel bombs killed thousands and turned ancient cities to dust? Where are they now that one “de-escalation” zone after another is turned into a bloody battleground?
This collective inaction and inability to bring the warring parties to the table in any kind of meaningful way will haunt the public conscience for generations to come. Despite growing efforts to sweep this tragedy under the carpet and pretend things are getting back to normal, these atrocities cannot be erased or forgotten.
Throughout all of this devastation and despair, aid organisations such as Islamic Relief have helped provide a sliver of light, working alongside local Syrian organisations to deliver aid to those who need it most. But without help from the international community, there is only so much that we can do in the face of so much need.
That is why humanitarian access in all areas must be secured and the safety of aid workers guaranteed. Funding must also be made available so that the 1 million people already displaced inside Idlib can get access to the most basic of supplies, food, water, shelter and medicine.
In the absence of a political solution, and the growing likelihood that we will see a fresh and brutal assault on Idlib, we also need to seriously talk about the failure of western governments to take in families who have fled the fighting and those who are still living in daily fear of their lives inside Syria.
Credit must be given to neighbouring countries like Turkey – which has more Syrian refugees than the whole of Europe – but this is not a problem they can deal with alone.
In 2015 the UK agreed to resettle 20,000 Syrians by 2020, but has so far resettled only half that number.
To know that doors have been shut to so many people fleeing for their lives, and that some people in Europe don’t care if we live or die – openly calling us “cockroaches” and a “threat to national security” – breaks my heart. To escape bombing and bullets, and see your friends and family drown in the Mediterranean in a bid to make it to safety, only to be greeted with racism and suspicion once you arrive, is too much to bear – even for a people who have endured so much already.
My wife is pregnant with our first child, and I should be looking forward to our future together. But I don’t know what this future holds. I’m just living in the present and doing what I can to play a positive role in my country and to stay alive.
We all want an opportunity to live in peace and rebuild our homeland; but to do this, we need to see an urgent end to this war and the senseless killing of innocent men, women and children. To do this, the international community needs to step up – because we have been left with nowhere else to go and nothing to come back to.