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12 years of war in Syria with no end in sight

"Before the war, I didn't even know what the police were. I didn't understand violence. I was 12 years old and, from one moment to the next, I became 18 or 20. The war suddenly made me much older. There was no way to play, to study, to grow." Gufran is now 24 and recalls the horror she experienced "it was just running from one place to another. Just blood, just dead people, just crying and screaming, just things a child isn't supposed to see." Like Gufran, many millions of people lived through the barbarity of a war that no one saw coming.

It was in March 2011 that the violence escalated, when forces led by the government of Bashar al-Assad violently attacked thousands of demonstrators who were demanding the resignation of the president. Hundreds of dissidents and opponents were murdered and detained in the following days, adding to the regime's violent repression. The opposition responded with weapons to withdraw security forces from their areas. Violence soon escalated into a civil war that drew hundreds of rebel groups from the region, making it a conflict with far more significance than just a confrontation between the ruling regime and its opponents. The entry of international powers into the picture only made the chaos worse, leading to extremist groups such as al-Qaeda and the self-proclaimed Islamic State also becoming involved, resulting in a proxy war.

Currently the war is waged by various factions including civilian units, nationalist groups, independence, rebels, extremists and international forces. Despite the attenuation of violence, the war in Syria is for UN special envoy Geir Pedersen "a profound humanitarian, political, military, security, economic and human rights crisis, of great complexity on an almost unimaginable scale". It is estimated that around 503,000 people died as a result of military operations, not including the thousands who died from torture or lack of access to health care, food or water and other essential human rights.

More than 22 million people were forced to flee, with an estimated 6.9 million internally displaced and 6.8 million refugees. The vast majority remain in neighboring countries, with Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey hosting an estimated 5.3 million Syrians. The adversities of receiving massive influxes of vulnerable people are particularly felt in smaller countries like Lebanon, where 15% of its population are Syrian refugees. According to the UN, 15.3 million Syrians (70% of the population) need humanitarian aid and 12 million live in a state of food insecurity, not knowing when their next meal will be. The fragile situation of the Syrian population and the immense destruction of the country have been aggravated by several events in recent years, such as the pandemic or the devastating earthquakes last February.

Recognition of the urgency of a political solution is universal, but the conflict does not seem to end so quickly. All rounds of negotiation so far have failed and Bashar al-Assad remains fixated on neither negotiating nor stepping down. Meanwhile, millions of people continue to suffer, to live in inhumane conditions and to die at the expense of magnanimous fantasies for the conquest of power.

Now, Gufran, like many of the Syrians welcomed in Portugal, can breathe a sigh of relief, but underlines that "there are still marks from my past that I can't stop taking with me, but I don't want to be trapped in them". She lives in Braga and in the future wants to buy a house close to her family in Braga, she wants to get the Portuguese citizenship, improve her Portuguese and go to university. For Gufran, as for most refugees, the important thing is that "we have to keep trying, trying, trying, doing, doing, doing. Always moving forward. (...) I've already started my life four, five times and I don't know how many more turns it will take. It doesn't matter, let next turn come".

Kurdish mother walks with her child through the destroyed streets of Kobani, in Aleppo district. Yasin Akgu. Getty Images.

Note: Gufran testimonies were taken from the book Human Voices. A project implemented by MEERU - Abrir Caminho. Know more stories here.

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