Cordaid CEO Simone Filippini travelled to Syria to visit aid workers and relatives of Syrian refugees in the Netherlands. She is fed up with the fact that millions of Syrians remain trapped in a hopeless situation. Calling for real action to be taken at the UN Summit Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants, “Stop that war, stop arming, stop watching and doing nothing.”
This blog is written by Simone Filippini, Cordaid’s Chief Executive Officer from October 2013 – September 2016. A passionate bridge-builder, she takes a business-like approach to the non-profit sector.
Homs by night. Somewhere in the buildings shot to smithereens in front of us, a few lights twinkle. Returned families. I don’t know how they survive. No water, no electricity, no walls. Fireflies in a huge carcass of scrap and debris. Returned from a place where things were worse.
Ahead is the old city. Epicenter of madness. A sight reminiscent of Berlin in ’45. A city bombed to death. If you stop and listen, you hear nothing. Not even a dog. Sometimes, silence is downright scary.
Alevites, Shi’ites, Sunnis, Christians, all they want is one thing: for the war to stop.
Damascus by day, two days earlier. Ten meters away from me, a man suddenly empties his Kalashnikov. In the air, though. He cries. His brother was shot dead in Palmyra. He just heard the news.
We drive around. Deep rumbling, bangs, smoke plumes. Incoming fire, outgoing fire, you learn to listen in a different way. Sudden danger, no one looks up. Only us, who know no war.
At the office of our fellow aid workers of Caritas, three burnt-out car wrecks rest outside the front door. One employee lost her brother in Aleppo. The family of another colleague used to run a perfume business. Armed lunatics shot it to pieces. Yet another aid worker in a health center that we support tells me about her husband. He walked down the street and got a bullet through his head.
It’s strange, but no one I meet wants to leave. They cannot leave behind their beloved dead. And most do not have the money to flee either. Alevites, Shi’ites, Sunnis, Christians, all they want is one thing: for the war to stop.
I feel like a mailman of indescribable sorrow and profound joy, of disunity and connectedness.
The Papal Nuncios in Damascus explains the conflict. “All armed parties are devils”, he says. What once started as a spontaneous and genuine popular protest has become a hornet’s nest of factions that tears apart provinces and cities and that chases and massacres a population. The USA, the EU, Russia, the Turkish, Saudis and Iran jump on top of it and carry out their macabre war by proxy.
In this hornet’s nest our aid workers operate and risk their own lives doing so. In soup kitchens, mobile hospitals, in villages, cities and in those places where displaced people are stranded. And if they require permission from the authorities in that area, they so request. No matter how much blood on its hands that authority has. Because the need to help is huge. Because doing nothing and sitting back watching comfortably is not an option. Providing relief in times of war is fraught with dilemmas. And if you can help people, you should do so and deal with all dilemmas.
Dilemmas. I meet with Modar’s parents in Damascus. They sold their house and car and gave the money to their children, so they could flee. Themselves, they stayed behind. Modar, his sister and younger brother are in the Netherlands. They think about their parents every day, out there in the east of our little country. Modar is currently learning Dutch. His sister will be going to Zimbabwe to do volunteer work and plans to study in Groningen afterwards. I got to know them a little, because Modar came to visit Cordaid as Caritas aid worker and we raised some money for him and his family. One day, I cycled through the dunes. ‘Hey, Simone!’ I heard behind me. It was Modar. A Syrian boy in a typically Dutch scene. It made me happy.
There is only one message, I consider, standing in the darkness of Homs, staring at those few lights. Help, help, help.
In Damascus, I meet with his parents. Two people who gave everything up to let their children escape. I tell him how well their children are doing. Could I give their regards and take them some trinkets? I feel like a mailman of indescribable sorrow and profound joy, of disunity and connectedness.
There is only one message, I consider, standing in the darkness of Homs, staring at those few lights. Help, help, help. We have to help. Now immediately to save people from the hell in which they ended up. And in the long run, we must help to ensure they can rebuild their beautiful country again.
In the political game of those in power – that we aid workers do not play, but we are still in the middle of all the madness and suffering that it brings – for me there is only one thing on the agenda: to talk with the devils of this war and ensure they sit at the table together. The need to put an end to the violence is greater than the revenge or the ambition of individuals. Listen to what 6.5 million displaced Syrians are saying. Stop that war, stop arming, stop watching and doing nothing.