THOUSANDS of people
descended on Moscow, Washington, Paris, and London on
Thursday. They came for one reason: to give hope to Syria, as the
country entered the fourth year of war.
The #WithSyria event was marked
in London in Trafalgar Square. Hundreds of people watched as
messages of hope and solidarity for Syrians were projected on to
Nelson's Column, and the voices of Syrian children were played to a
soundtrack written by the band Elbow.
The global campaign was
organised by a coalition of 115 aid agencies and charities to mark
the third anniversary of the beginning of the conflict, and to
remind the world that the suffering in Syria continues.
Speaking to the crowds in
Trafalgar Square, the Lebanese-born comedian and broadcaster Dom
Joly said: "We are here to celebrate a terrible anniversary - three
years of unrelenting horror and misery for the Syrian people. Our
message is 'Don't let the people of Syria lose another year to
bloodshed and suffering.'"
Speaking before the event, Mr
Joly said he did not know what the #WithSyria campaign could
achieve, but that he had to do something.
"Who knows what it's going to
do, but it's better than doing nothing," he said. "News cycles can
move on, and [Syrians] can slightly think that they have been
forgotten. And I think it's really important that they know they
Candles marked out a map of the
world on the ground as the words "Stand with Syria" and "Give hope"
were projected on to Nelson's Column. Tweeted messages of
solidarity and support were also added to the light display, as
simultaneous #WithSyria meetings took place across the world.
Speaking at the event,
aid-agency experts gave a downbeat assessment of the situation for
The emergency field director
for the International Rescue Committee, Sanj Srikanthan, said:
"Syrians are a lot like you and me - they had middle-class lives -
lives you could recognise - but now they are living in tents. The
lack of dignity, the humiliation, the attacks and torture they
faced in Syria is at a shocking level after three years.
"Most of the armed actors
inside Syria couldn't care less for the majority of unarmed
civilians, women, and children, who are caught in the middle.
"The incidence of violence
against women is truly shocking - I have been doing this for six
years, and I have never seen anything like it. It doesn't look like
it's anywhere near stopping."
The head of Christian Aid's
Middle East programmes, Janet Symes, said that Syrian refugees
wanted jobs to sustain them rather than food handouts.
"It's very difficult expecting
[the host countries] to provide jobs," she said. "Lebanon has about
900,000 refugees, but a population of just over four million; so
providing jobs for the refugees will have an impact on the jobs for
the Lebanese. It's important to work together and provide
assistance to both."
But, she said, there was also
the urgent problem of getting humanitarian assistance to Syrians
trapped inside the country.
"The UN estimates [that] about
9.5 million people in Syria are in desperate need of humanitarian
assistance - nearly 50 per cent of the population. There are still
240,000 people in besieged areas where aid is not getting in."
The chief executive of World
Vision UK, Justin Byworth, had just returned from a visit to
Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, which now houses almost 100,000
men, women, and children who have fled Syria.
"I have a panoply of individual
stories of real horror," he said, "and every single one has a story
of such tragedy that when you put them all together and you think
about the scale of it. . ."
One man told Mr Byworth how he
had fled Syria after a soldier had put a rifle to the head of his
ten-year-old son. The soldier then murdered a child who lived next
door, before gouging out the eyes of the child's disabled
"This is the thing that I heard
time and time again, especially from dads and mums," he said. "You
ask Syrians 'What do you want us to do?', and they said: 'Tell our
stories; don't let people forget us.'"
Nevertheless, Ms Symes said
that she remained optimistic that things could change. "What's so
important about this event is that it shows the people of Syria
that people across the world care about them, and are standing with
"It also shows to governments
around the world that they need to keep up the diplomatic
engagement and keep pushing to find a political solution to the