At the Keleti station, Budapest. Kristof Holvenyi
The attached interview is written by Amaya, from the Jesuit Refugee Service .
‘The aim of this interview was to understand from Nawras what daily life is like for Syrian people today. This will hopefully make our audience understand why people continue to flee to neighboring countries, and why they need safe and legal paths to access asylum in Europe. And above all, why Syrians desperately need peace in order to rebuild their lives in their country’.
What is daily life in Syria like for people right now?
Apart from the besieged areas, the most difficult situation is Aleppo, because there is a shortage of everything. It is really difficult to get anything. The majority of families depend on assistance given by different organisations. Malnutrition affects everybody.
There is a shortage of drinkable water. People have to buy drinkable water in tanks and they pay 3 Syrian pounds for 1 litre. One family of four needs at least 1,000 liters per week, so this means people pay 12,000 Syrian pounds per month for water. Plus 8,000 for a generator, besides all the expenses of daily life.
People also suffer constant fear of mortar attacks. Mortars can reach anywhere so people are afraid to send their children to school. So people remain inside their houses. The heavy rockets in the Christian neighborhood in Aleppo obliged people to go to shelters. They lost everything and now they are renting one or two rooms for 20-30,000 Syrian pounds, which is the salary of a teacher. People sold everything to survive; rings, jewels, accessories, cars. Those who had savings are running out of money.
People cannot afford normal life any more. This is why they are forced to move out.
Some families chose to stay until the school ended, the same for young people who attend university, but many chose to leave.
Homs is the calmer city for IDPs who want to return. The problem is the reconstruction of houses, we have people who lost everything and many are not able to rebuild due to lack of money, so they do not return home.
During the day kids can go to school. Schools are packed. Most of the schools in the cities were damaged by mortars. But it is difficult to go around during the night, there is no security and one can be kidnapped. It is difficult for people to move around in Homs.
Food is very expensive. The salary of a teacher is around 35,000 Syrian pounds. A kg of meat is 2,500-3,000 Syrian pounds. So one salary is only 13 kgs of meat. People eat meat once or twice per month.
We have at least 16 hours of daily blackout. Once every two or three days we have drinkable water.
Again, life is too expensive. Prices are almost the same in Syria in terms of food, vegetables, etc. But in Damascus we do not pay for generators, because 8 hours of electricity is enough for laundry or shaving. Having drinkable water once every two days of is ok. Schools and universities which are not damaged are running. But two weeks ago ten students were killed by mortars in the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Damascus.
There is fighting not too far from the center of Damascus. The highway to Homs is blocked, so one needs to go around to access Homs.
Are there many movements of internally displaced persons?
IDPs are coming to Damascus and the coastal area regularly. The majority are looking to survive from Daesh areas. Unless you accept the ideology of Daesh you are not able to live there. Yes, not anyone is able to live with them.
The second reason that pushes IDPs to leave are bombardments in the zones controlled by Daesh.
Do you see light for the future?
We are in a period of uncertainty. But what is clear is that the solution is beyond the capacity of Syrians. Peace is going to be achieved at the regional and international levels, not at country level. No Syrian citizens are able to solve the situation. People are tired. The conflict has reached a point which is bigger than the capacity within Syria.
Who should be included in the negotiations?
We cannot solve the problem without all the elements which created the problem. We need to integrate all, we cannot exclude anyone, except those who exclude others.
Is there a prophetic role of the Church?
People of good will are still doing a lot.
The war and the loss of everything has been an opportunity for greater awareness and conversion by some Church leaders. Many people have been converted when losing everything. Some have really changed. I think the prophetic role can be seen in small gestures and initiatives. Many communities and organisations, not only JRS, are being able to reach to the most vulnerable with basic aid, food, non-food items and young religious and lay people are still committed to help people. We saw these little groups and initiatives growing from the beginning of the war, now there are less but they are still present.
Do you think Christians should stay or should leave?
This is a question of personal freedom.
What is your vision for Syria?
Syria will not be the same as before. We are in the phase of a new Syria. Let us do everything so that it will be a renewed Syria, worthy of its history, and which will be an inclusive Syria as once it was. My hope is that the new Syria reflects its beauty as the bridge between the East and the West, multi-cultural and multi-religious, as it was before the war.
This is my hope. In this inclusive vision, there is no room for those who exclude others.
Amaya Valcárcel, 18th September 2015