The face of the Syrian civil war

May 30, 2016, 11:59 p.m.

There are tens of thousands of refugees awaiting their fate in Greece. For three months, they have been anxiously waiting for the government to open its borders to let them continue their journey to a safe, permanent location to resettle themselves and their families. For them, however, the stay in Greece gets harder every day. As time progresses, and as the Greek government builds more permanent settlements, Syrians become increasingly concerned that they will not live a life with freedom and without tents.

The face of the Syrian Civil War in Greece is a 40-year-old woman who reached Greece in elation three months ago. Having crossed the Mediterranean Sea with her three children under the age of 10, she anticipated an easy arrival to Germany only to find that the Balkan countries shut their borders. Today, she and her children are stuck in a refugee camp.

The face of the Syrian Civil War in Greece is a 7-year-old boy with a scraped knee. When prompted by the doctor on call to answer where he is, he says, “I don’t know.” When asked how he got here, he says, “Car to taxi to boat to bus to walking.” When asked where he wants to go, he yells, “Germany!” When asked what’s there, he says, “Toys and family and toys.”

The face of the Syrian Civil War in Greece is a 15-year-old girl experiencing early menarche and feeling shame and embarrassment at having to go to the NGO-run clinic to ask for ibuprofen. She wishes she could have the autonomy to go buy her own medications at a local pharmacy.

The face of the Syrian Civil War is a man who cries himself to sleep every night, not because of the trauma he experienced in Syria, but because of the guilt he experiences in not being able to provide for his children. “The worst thing for a father to see is lack of opportunity for his children. To think that I put my children’s life in danger while crossing the Mediterranean for this.”

The face of the Syrian Civil War is a woman who pleads and asks if we know when this refugee camp will be shut down. We tell her we don’t know. She pleads, “Just give me something. Tell me I’ll have to wait a month, three months, a year. I’ll wait as long as I know there’s an end date in sight. But this? We left Syria to avoid death only to face a slow death in Greece.”

The face of the Syrian Civil War is the thousands of children who no longer attend school — the thousands of prospective engineers, doctors, lawyers, architects who fled mid-semester to escape death and persecution. The thousands of practicing engineers, doctors, lawyers, architects who can no longer practice in a foreign country because they are trapped in its refugee camp.

Despite all of this, the face of the Syrian Civil War remains, most of all, the hopeful child who, amidst inconceivable adversity continues to smile, plays with his friends, and dreams of a future outside of a refugee camp.

Amidst mass media that perpetuates the claim that refugees are merely economic migrants taking advantage of European countries, remember these stories. They are the actual face of the Syrian Civil War — millions of ordinary people forced out of war and persecution and merely yearning for freedom.

— Laila Soudi and Hana Abu Hassan


Laila Soudi is a mental health advocate and researcher at Stanford University School of Medicine. Hana Abu Hassan is a general physician and Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Jordan. Currently, Laila and Hana are on a medical mission with the Syrian American Medical Society Foundation to help Syrian refugees still stuck in Greece.

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