Burnt out camp in Arsal, Lebanon (August 2014). Picture courtesy of Maggie Tookey
Cut off from the rest of Lebanon and accessible by just one road is Arsal, the battle front with ISIS of which you’ve probably never heard.
Largely abandoned by the Lebanese state, the north eastern town on the border with Syria has had to absorb, at a low estimate, over 80,000 Syrian refugees into its population of just 35,000.
At the height of its security problems, when all other aid groups had pulled out over safety fears, it was a small, volunteer-run Scottish charity, Edinburgh Direct Aid (EDA) that was first on the scene.
Wissam is frustrated.
We’re sitting in a cafe in Edinburgh talking about how he came here from Damascus. Our interview was less interview, more informal chat – aided by his friend Keefe who he met through Re-Act.
He jokes that she is his translator – she shakes her head and explains that they have been teaching each other one word here and there.
He twirls his finger by his head – “You remember?” – “Majnun,” she replies.
“You know majnun?” Wissam asks me. I nod. Majnun is Arabic for crazy and used to be one of my favourite words.
The Syrians I have spoke to have a suffered in ways unimaginable to most.
Some have shared their stories with me and this blog, some have asked me to keep their tales to myself.
They have been stabbed, tortured, imprisoned, made treacherous journeys, lost their homes, lost relatives, lost friends, lost hope in this war that has torn their country apart ever ending.
But they were the lucky ones.
It may have taken them several attempts, they may have thought they were going to die, but they crossed the Mediterranean.
They survived a journey that they shouldn’t have had to take in the first place.
They were the lucky ones.
If anyone still needs convincing as to why we should open our homes and our hearts.
This is the story of 8 year old Laya, who drowned at sea.
To understand Aamer’s journey you have to consider what he left behind.
After he told me his story of how he went from Homs to Edinburgh I decided to ask his opinion on some of the wider issues surrounding the exodus from his country.
I had argued in a previous post that I found the UK parliament’s decision to bomb ISIS in Syria nonsensical, especially given that the vast amount of causalities in Syria have been caused by the regime.
Aamer had joined the Syrian Revolution from its birth, when it was a protest of a people against their government and not the quagmire that exists today.
Aamer keeps a handwritten note in his bedroom. He found it alongside a donated microwave when he moved to Edinburgh last month. It was a welcome note, whose anonymous writer had wished Aamer all the best in his new life in Scotland.
The UK is going to war again. When is it ever not at war?
The House of Commons voted 397-223 to join France, Russia, the US, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar (and Assad) in bombing Syria tonight.
The result was expected. The margin less so.
It is a tale all too familiar in our recent foreign policy ventures in the Middle East.
“Tell me mabruk (congratulations),” she said. “My husband is a hero.” – Basima Atat (Photo courtesy of Kareem Shaheen)
Basima was in love with Adel for five years, engaged for another five, and married for seven. She lost her husband and their six year old daughter lost her father when he tackled an ISIS suicide bomber to the ground.
In the first 6 months of 2015, 137,000 people crossed the Mediterranean Sea into Europe. The vast majority, according to UNHCR, were “fleeing from war, conflict or persecution.”
A third of those men, women and children who made it across the sea into Italy or Greece were from Syria.
The journey is not for the faint of heart. In April alone, 1,308 people drowned or went missing trying to cross the Mediterranean.
Front page of The National 17/11/15
This was the front page of yesterday’s newspaper. Welcoming the first round of Syrian refugees being brought to Scotland from the camps in Lebanon and Jordan.
By Christmas, around 400 Syrians will be settling into their lives here. Yesterday the first 100 arrived to the rain, the cold and a, by and large, warm reception.
Yet the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon had to stand up in the Scottish Parliament and reassure the Scottish people that those coming had been vetted twice. Once by the UN, then again by the Home Office.
Marwa is from Aleppo in Syria.
The country’s largest city, and one that has suffered greatly in power struggles between the regime and rebel forces. At the time of writing the sole supply route to the regime-held areas of the city has been cut off by an ISIS advance, leaving hundreds of thousands stranded with the price of basic goods sky rocketing.