Syrian Refugees: Who Will Tell Their Story?

By Refugees International
A Syrian child in a refugee camp near the Turkish city of Antakya. Photo by Dona Bozzi.

Michael Hawkins is Secretary of the Board of Refugees International. Mr. Hawkins visited Syrian refugees in Jordan as part of RI's most recent mission to the region.

By Michael Hawkins

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to travel with Refugees International to Jordan, where I met Syrian refugees living near the capital, Amman, and at the Zaatari refugee camp near the Syrian border. Their resounding request of me was simple: “Please tell the world what is happening to us and ask them to help”; “Help us to stop the senseless killing of innocent people.”

To emphasize this plea for help, they wanted us to hear and see the extent of the atrocities plaguing their country. Their voices were tense and occasionally laden with tears. They emphasized the graphic nature of their circumstances by showing us the scars of torture on their bodies, telling of the injustices they have suffered, and showing horrifying video clips captured on their cell phones.

The specifics of these atrocities are not pleasant, but need to be shared. They emphasize the urgent need for Refugees International to be a voice for the refugees, and for anyone being made aware of these issues to support organizations speaking for them and providing assistance to these fellow human beings.

Some of the most striking abuses included the execution of a husband in front of his wife by Syrian soldiers; the rape of a wife in the presence of her husband; a young man who was suspected of being friends with rebel fighters had acid poured on his hands and face, cigarettes put out on his skin, and a hot hookah bowl pressed into his back; inhumane detention centers where 40 people were crammed into a 20 x 20 room and where regular beatings and torture were the norm; widespread, abhorrent sexual abuse of men, women, boys, and girls; the arrest of doctors for providing medical assistance to those injured in the conflict; refugees being shot in the back while trying to cross the border to safety in Jordan. And the list goes on. Indeed, these represent just a small sample of the atrocities now taking place within Syria.

Many of those whom we spoke to were so fearful of retaliation by the Syrian regime that they refused to give their real names, or show their faces for photographs or videotape. Fortunately, Refugees International serves as a voice for these very people: bringing their stories to those who need to hear them, and using the power of advocacy to deliver aid to those in need.

The civil war in Syria and its widespread atrocities have now been going on for 18 months. Countries like Jordan, who have taken in fleeing Syrians, are demonstrating great resolve and compassion for these refugees, and their governments and societies should be supported by the U.S. and other donors. But even more important than that, world leaders must work together to bring an end to the senseless killing, torture, and abuse going on inside the country.

Very few of us will ever meet a refugee face-to-face or hear their stories in their own words. One does not need to see their scars, however, to know how desperately they need our help. Their plea is so great, and their resources so few, that we all must be a voice for them. So I urge you to reach out to your political representatives: Tell them that America must bring comfort to the two million Syrians displaced throughout the region. Tell them that achieving a peaceful solution to Syria’s civil war must be our ultimate goal. Or, if you are so inclined, consider supporting Refugees International, which has monitored this crisis closely and continues to be the voice for Syrian refugees.

Each of us can take some action – great or small – to make a difference for Syrians in their time of need. Whatever you can do, I ask you to do it today.