Five years on, we must seize sliver of hope for Syria

We could finally be witnessing a real turning point in Syria’s bloody catastrophe.

A child eats bread as she stands in front of a shop in the rebel held Qaboun neighborhood of Damascus, Syria [Reuters]
A Syrian child eats bread as she stands in front of a shop in Qaboun neighbourhood of Damascus, Syria [Reuters]

Yet another March 15 passes. Yet another commemoration of the birth of a peaceful protest in which Syrians took to the streets demanding their rights.

As the world watched, the revolution was slowly hijacked by a proxy war, which has now claimed the lives of almost half a million Syrian people and forced more than half of Syria’s initial population to leave their homes.

Syrians now form the largest refugee population on earth – in UK terms, that is more than the entire population of Wales fleeing the country. But these incomprehensibly large figures tell nothing of the human suffering that I see daily in my work with Syrian refugee families.

Examining the proxy war in Syria

Those numbers undervalue the extent of the suffering. They don’t speak to those who have lost body parts, who are now sick, who have lost family members, the orphaned, the widowed, the jobless. Those numbers do not cater for the millions of broken dreams and the lost hope.

After five long years of watching the bombs rain down on their homes, schools and hospitals, the fragile ceasefire brokered by the United States and Russia over the past weeks has provided vital respite to Syrian civilians from the horrors of war.

Crucial sliver of hope

This is a crucial sliver of hope for people who felt long ago abandoned by the international community. The streets were filled again. And hope found its way to the hearts of Syrians around the world. We could be finally witnessing a real turning point in this bloody catastrophe.

READ MORE: Who is ‘weaponising’ the Syrian refugees?

But if not nurtured, failure to see this deal through could actually lead to an intensification of the violence, forcing hundreds of thousands more to flee and sending a dangerous signal to all parties that the world is disturbingly tolerant of murder, torture and laying entire cities to siege.

While humanitarian assistance is desperately needed now, it cannot be a substitute for political progress ...


Syrian people want and need an end to the violence, and the most basic support: hundreds of thousands of men and women, literally starving to death in besieged cities, need sustained deliveries of food, medicine and other vital aid, not isolated aid trucks and sporadic, failed attempts at air-drops.

For too long the international community has allowed warring parties to use starvation as a weapon of war, to veto aid deliveries, to condemn innocent Syrian civilians to death.

And while humanitarian assistance is desperately needed now, it cannot be a substitute for political progress, nor a smokescreen for Russian attacks against civilians to continue.

Failure to stop barrel bombs, and war crimes, the failure to secure safe skies under which people can lead normal lives, will only fuel more extremism, no matter how many bombs the US or Russia drop. Nor will it do anything to end the flow of refugees desperate to escape to safety.

Cameron’s push to aid Syrians

Last month in London I spoke to British Prime Minister David Cameron and other world leaders at a global conference on the Syria crisis.


Cameron deserves praise for leading an increased push for aid to Syrians. But the UK cannot keep congratulating itself while innocent Syrian civilians continue to live in fear for their lives.

The support that Syrians really need now is a demonstration by David Cameron, Angela Merkel and other European leaders that they will not tolerate the carnage continuing to play out in slow motion in Syria. The violence must end.

World leaders must stand with ordinary Syrians and make it clear to all key parties to the conflict and their backers, including Russia, the US, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, that we have reached a tipping point: broker a genuine political solution for Syria now, or allow the deadly proxy-war to further entrench, with terrifying consequences for the region and the world, but most importantly for Syrians.

Against all odds, Syrians still hold out hope. Five years after Syrians took to the streets, after we lost family, friends, neighbours, and entire cities have been wiped from the map, we still dream of a peaceful, democratic Syria. We cannot accept a return to the status quo. We won’t.

Dr Rouba Mhaissen is an economist, activist and development practitioner who works on development issues in the MENA region, particularly forced migration and the Syrian refugee crisis. She is the founder and director of Sawa Foundation (UK), and Sawa for Development and Aid (Lebanon), both civil society organisations working with Syrian refugees on an integrated approach to development.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.