March 15 marked a decade since Syrians took to the streets to demand political change. A decade since the regime of Bashar Assad crushed protests and pursued a campaign of repression, turning the uprising into a bloody conflict.
Nearly 400,000 people have been killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Half of Syria’s population has been displaced, the Danish Refugee Council has said.
Europe has felt the impact of the Syrian War more than any region outside the Middle East. Millions have crossed into its borders in search of refuge from death and violence. In ten years, an estimated 1.4 million people found a new home in Europe, according to EU figures on successful asylum applications.
Yet, the war rages on to this day. And, despite what many want to believe, this crisis has been “Europe’s problem” from the start.
When demonstrations started in 2011, the EU (and other Western players) promised to help protect Syrians’ human rights and fulfil their aspirations of a new, democratic Syria.
But Europe stood idle and watched the civil war become a regional proxy battle and Syria an area where a great power struggle grinds on. European governments never seemed in a position to weigh in as Russia, Iran or Turkey wreaked yet more havoc in the region.
While these powerful foes fuelled the flames of the war in Syria, Europe emerged as the bystander in a catastrophe it did not see coming – nor have the means to avert.
Syrians were caught in the crossfire of geopolitics and their country was brought to its knees.
Today, the country is a fragile state plagued by poverty, hunger, illiteracy, radicalism, combined with an ever more oppressive Syrian regime. And it is under the influence of more and more regional and international powers.
This will also have major consequences for European security, domestic policies and our societies at large.
Many Syrians who have fled to Europe hope to one day be needed by the countries where they now reside. To mark the anniversary of the civil war breaking out, I went to meet some of them. “This place opened its arms to me from the beginning. There are people here who support me. So, of course, I hope that one day they will say: ‘This is the man we need’ or ‘this is the man we’ve been looking for’,” Dorado Jadiba, a Syrian living in France, told me.
It’s time Europe finally develops a cohesive policy that gives hope for Syrians: Those in Syria who still dream of building a secular and democratic state where free and fair elections are the standard and dissent is tolerated, as well as those in Europe who are striving for integration and a new life in a peaceful nation.
“Finding refuge” is a series of exclusive reports that tell the story of the Syrian War through the personal experiences of Muhammed, Khaled, Ismail, Hamza, Mohammed, Ahmed and Dorado – some of the Syrians who have fled to Europe.