Syrian refugees feel betrayed by West
Syrian women leave the police barricades at the Yayladagi refugee camp in Hatay province, Turkey, on Sept. 15, 2013. The camp is heavily fortified, complete with high walls and barbed wire and rests on Turkey's border with Syria.
Stars and Stripes
REYHANLI, Turkey — At a makeshift trauma hospital just a stone’s throw from the porous desert border with Syria, approximately 30 men shot, maimed, tortured or paralyzed in a civil war to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad spoke with despair about the fighting in their country and with barely concealed anger at the United States for doing nothing, in their opinion, to stop the slaughter.
The wounded Syrians contend they are a mix of civilians and fighters from the rebel Free Syrian Army who come from different religious and ethnic backgrounds. They argue that their wounds and their plight are typical of the human toll of 2½ years of civil war in which Assad’s regime has suppressed opposition by bombing and shelling entire cities into rubble.
“This is a glimpse at the people inside and out of Syria,’’ said a 30-year-old rebel with bandages bulging from where his eye was sewn shut in a botched operation. “It’s worse inside. All the world has left us alone.’’
Syrian refugees feel betrayed by the West, particularly by the United States, because the Western powers intervened elsewhere, such as in Libya, where the government attacked its own people.
“Why are chemical weapons forbidden but others are allowed?’’ asked one thin, pale man with a leg wound. He declined to give his name because he said he feared reprisals against his family still in Syria. “Why are the lives of the people of Syria so cheap?’’
The United Nations has estimated that 100,000 people have been killed in the war so far. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates 4 million people have been displaced inside Syria by the fighting and that 2 million others have fled to neighboring countries like Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq.
Since late 2011, the Arab League, the European Union, Turkey and the U.S. have expanded sanctions against the Assad regime, but with no significant military support, the upper hand has teetered back and forth between forces loyal to Assad and fractured factions of resistance fighters.
The main rebel groups include Jabhat al-Nusrah and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, both of which are affiliated with al-Qaida, and the more moderate Free Syrian Army, which has been accused by Christian and other minorities of being involved in ethnic cleansing.
Not surprisingly, most of the refugees who have fled the fighting in Syria voice support for one or another of the factions trying to overthrow the government. In the refugee camps, the support seems overwhelming for a threatened U.S. military strike against Syria over its alleged use last month of chemical weapons against opponents in a Damascus suburb.
A deal reached by the United States with Russia and Syria to secure and destroy Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons has lessened the likelihood of any U.S. strike in Syria. The deal also dashed the hopes of Assad opponents who argue that the brutal suppression of any opposition in Syria is enough by itself to justify intervention by the U.S. and its Western allies.
Outside a refugee camp at Yayladagi, about 50 miles south of the makeshift hospital at Reyhanli, five Syrians who fled the fighting sit quietly in a park. One of them, Abed al-Salam Bayassa, his eyes glassing over with tears, talked about how 90 members of his extended family have been killed in the war.
“There is no devil in this world that does as Assad does,’’ said his friend, Ahmed al-Shgri.
American threats to punish Syria for its use of sarin gas had, however briefly, lifted the hopes and spirits of refugees eager for any sign that they may be able to go home again one day. The deal to secure and destroy Syrian chemical weapons stock has left many of them feeling betrayed rather than protected.
“They went after Libya and Iraq, and now they ask the permission of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,’’ complained one refugee, who identified himself only as Adem.
The Syrian conflict has given President Barrack Obama difficult foreign policy decisions. Russia backs the Assad regime, and two of the main rebel groups are affiliated with al-Qaida. The United Nations has confirmed atrocities have been committed by both sides, including disappearances, executions, rape and the indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas. Most of the blame for the atrocities, however, has been placed on Assad and his regime.
In the refugee camps, life can be difficult. Unemployment is high; housing is substandard and overcrowded; the food and goods are costly; and services, including medical care, are minimal. The refugees blame Assad for their plight, but they are angry with America — not because it caused their problems but because, in their opinion, it has the power to change their future but has decided not to.
“I am angry at America that chemical weapons is the red line,’’ said Kareem, 21, a student. “What is the difference between chemical weapons and regular weapons? Both kill.’’