There have long been reports that Syrian government forces are resorting to even the most ruthless methods or tactics in their efforts to quell the now 16-month-old uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Michael Shaikh, Country Operations Director at the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), recently traveled to Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey where he visited refugees of the conflict in Syria living in camps along the Syrian border. Interviewing camp residents, he says he found strong indications that Assad and the people surrounding him have made it a policy for government forces to specifically target those treating or otherwise providing assistance to the conflict’s wounded. According to Shaikh, who spoke to VOA’s Christina Howerton, even medical installations are not spared.
Below are some highlights of Shaikh’s remarks. Please check the sound file on the bottom of this post for a fuller version of the interview.
Medics as targets
It appears that there is a policy by the Assad government to target medical staff and infrastructure. They have bombed hospitals, either on purpose or by accident, but nonetheless, it’s taken out critical infrastructure from the civilian population … They are denying access to civilians with war wounds. They are treating anyone that has a war wound as supportive of the opposition. Also, I talked to many, many doctors and their families who said that … any doctor that has been caught treating any of the war wounded is seen as being part of the opposition and is either killed, arrested, or disappeared or harassed enough that they leave the country. So if you haven’t been killed by a shell, and you’ve managed to make it out but you do have a war wound, the likelihood of you being treated is very, very slim and then, if you need to get out of the country, you face an additional problem – you have to navigate a minefield in some cases.
Choosing between paying rent and buying food
They literally have crossed mine fields and escaped huge levels of violence to get to safety in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, and they didn’t bring much with them, I mean literally the shirts on their backs, and in Turkey, some are being put up in camps, but the vast majority in Lebanon and Jordan are having to pay rent for their apartment and they just can’t make ends meat. I mean you have families of five-six people coming across and they have to pay monthly rent, and you have this huge influx of refugees, which are, you know, driving rental prices up. They just can’t make ends meet. They don’t have money. Every day is a constant worry about rent. If it’s not money for rent, it’s money [for] ‘how do we eat?
Need for aid, access
In terms of what has to be done, it cannot be understated that, really, the international community, particularly the [United Nations] Security Council really needs to push on the Syrian government to allow access to humanitarian aid. It is, for everyone, it really is all about access…. I mean, people need help. They need humanitarians.
Listen to more of Michael Shaikh’s insights (8:47):
Christina Howerton is a junior reporter and intern at VOA. She is completing her Master’s in International Media at American University in Washington, DC. With interests in new media, international relations and the Middle East and a background in journalism, she works with VOA's Middle East Voices team to report on issues and events in the region.