A month ago, the Syrian crisis entered its 13th year. The situation on the ground is still as tragic as it was a few years ago, and people forced to flee –over 10 million internally displaced people and refugees in neighboring countries- continue to live in difficult conditions. It is important however to remember that before being refugees, internally displaced people, or simply people affected by war, each and every person had an occupation, a desire to contribute to society and a wide array of skills. Hussien Ahmad was born in Syria and grew up there, and is representative of this. As he works at UNHCR headquarters now, after serving in the field in Syria, Libya and Bangladesh, we took the opportunity to ask him a few questions.
You have joined UNHCR in a specific context- but have since then been working in many places around the world. What does this work mean to you?
Indeed! I joined UNHCR in Syria in 2016 during the Syrian crisis which was a very specific moment in my life. Later, in 2019, I moved to Tunis serving the Libya operation, and then, in 2020 I moved to Bangladesh where I served for 2 years supporting the Rohingya response.
Currently I have been here in Geneva for the past year and a half. This work has put me in different and very diverse situations but always engaging with people in need of humanitarian support. This has allowed me to feel, relate to and reflect on the situation which I lived through myself in Syria, and so I give all that I have to provide some relief to those people facing immense difficulties.
Through this work, I have learnt more about how important it is for us as humans to be close to each other, to feel the suffering of each other and to be present and available for each other when needed.
I have seen how small things collectively can make a huge difference to relieve what people are going through. On the other hand, I also learnt how sad it can be to get a smile, some relief, or strength that lasts only for a few moments and that sadly people have to suffer again.
For me, our role as humanitarian workers is critical and goes beyond and is deeper, than the immediate action that we must take in response to an emergency or a crisis. Our role is to assist and support and help find solutions that create real and meaningful change in the lives of the people who are in need, and there are many around the world. It is a huge responsibility, but it is very welcome and proudly taken.
It has now been just over 12 years that the crisis in Syria is ongoing. What was your perspective on the conflict when it started, and how has it changed?
12 years ago, I woke up to see the homeland I was born and raised in going into a crisis, a war, a… whatever you choose to call it. In the beginning, it was a huge shock! I thought - this can’t be true. Every day, I was hoping that the whole thing would stop the next morning and that we as Syrians would get our normal lives back. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. The crisis entered its 13th year by now. The country and its’ people have faced and gone through a lot. The Syrians have massively suffered. Recently the earthquake added another chapter to the Syrian tragedy.
Personally, having lived through the Syrian crisis and having worked with UNHCR in different contexts, I realise more and more that the common ground of all crises is human suffering. Whoever they are, wherever they are, and whatever the cause of the crisis. Losing loved ones, losing home, losing resources, losing opportunities, and losing hope.
If you could send a message to the Swiss population about the situation in Syria, what would you tell them?
For thousands of years, Syria and Syrians have contributed to human civilization, leaving great impressions wherever they went.
Syrians are strong, resilient, skillful, and well educated. However, the longer the crisis goes on, the less we endure.
We need to rebuild our country, we need to create a bright future for our children, we need to have access to resources and opportunities. We need not to be stigmatized.
If I have one request of the Swiss people, it would be to support Syrians inside and outside the country to rebuild our future.
Images: A great lover of sporting challenges, Hussien proudly carries the UNHCR flag at the end of each race and challenge.
To find out more about the current situation in Syria, read this update on the current challenges, 12 years after the beginning of the crisis.
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