Humanitarian crises can be triggered by any number of causes: violent conflicts, natural disasters, famine, or epidemics. But some humanitarian crises have their roots in the loss of civil freedom where citizens can’t speak openly about political and economic issues for fear of retribution.
We often partner with Syrian refugees and asylum seekers who want to openly voice what is occurring in their home country but cannot because of parents, siblings or other family members still residing there. Phone calls, text messages, social media posts – any form of communication perceived as political opposition could have repercussions. To keep their family safe, staying silent on these issues is imperative.
And yet, although censorship has long been a part of his country’s political fabric, Isa* an asylum seeker from Syria, recalls a much different place before its civil war in 2011.
A journey with peace and simplicity
“Before the war, Syria was a very, very known country . . . thousands would come to Syria every year because we have wonderful weather . . . we have very ancient places, we have the Mediterranean Sea and beautiful mountains. I can tell you, life there before the war was so simple. Life was so beautiful, so easy. We were happy and satisfied with even the easy things. We were not complicated.”
Life might have been simple for the Syrian people, but for many years there remained an undercurrent of fear. When it came to politics, there was no freedom.
“This was the major issue in Syria before the war,” says Isa. “You cannot talk about Hafez Al-Assad or the Ba’ath party. Because if you talk and anybody catches you, you and your family will all be in disaster.”
Like many Syrians, Isa and his family stayed away from political issues and lived relatively peaceful and satisfying lives. That is until Isa’s college years. Pressure grew from others to join a political party he secretly opposed.
“When I was in college, many times they tried to get me to join. And I was refusing. They asked me why.”
Isa feared what would happen if he expressed his true views. Instead, he opted to tell them the next best reason: he was planning to leave Syria to pursue his career since that was his dream.
Through hard work in school and help with securing a visa, Isa’s dream came true when he gained a prestigious position working in Arabic Gulf countries. Although he flourished in his career and began his own family, he had every intention to return to his own country and the simple life he loved. With that plan in mind, he bought a house in Syria that his family could eventually settle in.
A journey through oppression and conflict
But when Bashar al-Assad rose to power after the death of his father in 2000, unrest over political oppression grew stronger through the decade.
In 2011, discontent brought about protests and escalated into armed conflict. A civil war began to rip apart the country, ultimately leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands and displacing millions. After 12 years, Syria now remains the world’s largest refugee crisis.
Watching the destruction of his country and fearing for the safety of family still living there, Isa and his wife began questioning the next steps of their future. And it wasn’t until a trip with his family to the United States when the answer became clear.
“Many friends told me, ‘[Isa] you came, and you are Syrian, and you are Christian, why would you go back?’”
Isa knew that there was more to life than making good money. Wanting a future for their children in a country they could call their own, he and his wife were compelled to apply for asylum in the United States. With loved ones still back in Syria, this was not an easy decision. But when a bomb destroyed his house, his church, and everything he had in Syria, he knew he had made the right one.
A journey of resilience and hope
Isa still grieves the loss of a country he deeply loves and will likely never return to. He watches his fellow Syrians continue to suffer through the devastating effects of the war. His city is not only ravaged by the impact of bombs but also by earthquakes. And his people continue to live without water, food, electricity, and money.
Although life is far from simple for the Syrian people and peace seems ever more elusive, beauty still endures. But this time it’s displayed through the hearts of the people – through resilience, determination and hope. Particularly in the hope that one day they will rebuild their lives and give their children a better future.
How you can help refugees who have fled a crisis
It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of one humanitarian crisis after another. However, when you consider the individual lives behind these crises, it becomes more apparent that you can do something. You can walk alongside another as others did with Isa – all it takes is that first step to make a difference and you can take that step right now.
*Name changed for privacy concerns.