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Three years of fighting, a river of tears

March 14th, 2014

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I have been in Iraq where the number of refugees from the war in Syria continues to climb, just as it does in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. We are entering the fourth year of fighting and there is no end in sight to this madness.

Syria is the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of our times, with more than nine million people on the move not out of choice but for the simple motive of survival. That’s more than 6.5 million people forced to flee inside Syria and another 2.5 million who’ve decided that if they want to live they need to cross their country’s borders and seek refuge among neighbours. Try to imagine what it would be like for

40 per cent of the population of your country

or city or town, to be uprooted suddenly in the most brutal circumstances. Try to imagine yourself forced to flee your home. When you do perhaps no longer these numbers would be just a remote statistic.

I stood on the banks of the Tigris River and was part of the reception committee for another barge-load of Syrians arriving in the Kurdish region of Iraq. I have witnessed similar scenes in Syria’s neighbouring countries but there was something especially poignant about this for me. Perhaps it was because the tranquil river scenery had so very little in common with the reality of what was going on on the other side of the Tigris:

lives crushed, hope abandoned, a bleak future

Among the new arrivals were young mothers with toddlers and babies, old men requiring helping hands to disembark and fearful-looking teenagers. For these young men the choice was very stark indeed – if they stay inside Syrian they will no doubt end up joining one of the warring factions, not necessarily by free choice.

Later I visited Domiz camp, with around 45,000 refugees – the largest of its kind in Iraq (it’s there that the photo above was shot). While people looked less stressed than refugees I have seen elsewhere,

life is undoubtedly tough

It suddenly began to rain violently and the hard ground churned into dense, cloying mud. I was moved by the friendliness and the generosity of everyone I met.

I hear a lot about the enormous stresses and strains which these 2.5 million refugees are putting on Lebanon and Jordan as well as Turkey, but the situation in Iraq has a lower profile. I’m grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to see for myself how it is.

And on this tragic third anniversary of the Syrian war I hope and pray that reason will finally prevail and that humanity – which I’ve been fortunate to see the best of in the most terrible circumstances – will win out.

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