We All Must Be Voice for Refugees

This article originally appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer.

By Michael Hawkins

Last month, I had the opportunity to travel with Refugees International to Jordan, where I met Syrian refugees living near the capital, Amman, and at the Zaatari refugee camp near the Syrian border. Their resounding request of me was simple: “Please tell the world what is happening to us and ask them to help; help us to stop the senseless killing of innocent people.”

They wanted us to hear and see the extent of the atrocities plaguing their country. Their voices were tense and occasionally laden with tears. They emphasized the graphic nature of their circumstances by showing us the scars of torture on their bodies, telling of the injustices they have suffered, and showing horrifying video clips captured on their cell phones.

The specifics of these atrocities are not pleasant, but need to be shared. They emphasize the urgent need for Refugees International to be a voice for the refugees, and for anyone being made aware of these issues to support organizations speaking for them and providing assistance to these fellow human beings.

Some of the most striking abuses included the execution of a husband in front of his wife by Syrian soldiers; the rape of a wife in the presence of her husband; a young man who was suspected of being friends with rebel fighters had acid poured on his hands and face, cigarettes put out on his skin and a hot hookah bowl pressed into his back; inhumane detention centers where 40 people were crammed into a 20-by-20 room and where regular beatings and torture were the norm; widespread sexual abuse of men, women, boys and girls; the arrest of doctors for providing medical assistance to those injured in the conflict; and refugees being shot in the back while trying to cross the border to safety in Jordan. These represent just a small sample of the atrocities now taking place within Syria.

Many of those whom we spoke to were so fearful of retaliation by the Syrian regime that they refused to give their real names or show their faces for photographs.

The civil war in Syria and its widespread atrocities have now been going on for 18 months. Countries like Jordan, which have taken in fleeing Syrians, are demonstrating great resolve and compassion for these refugees, and their governments and societies should be supported by the U.S. and other donors. But even more important than that, world leaders must work together to bring an end to the senseless killing, torture and abuse going on inside the country.

Very few will ever meet a refugee or hear their stories in their own words. One does not need to see their scars, however, to know how desperately they need our help. Their plea is so great, and their resources so few, that we all must be a voice for them. So I urge you to reach out to your political representatives: Tell them that America must bring comfort to the 2 million Syrians displaced. Tell them that achieving a peaceful solution to Syria’s civil war must be our ultimate goal. Consider supporting Refugees International, which continues to be the voice for Syrian refugees.

Each of us can take some action – great or small – to make a difference for Syrians in their time of need. Whatever you can do, I ask you to do it today.