A human perspective on the refugee crisis in Syria
The true humanitarian cost of war and its impact was brought to life for Blackpool Sixth students when a Syrian refugee spoke of his journey to the Lancashire resort.
Essam Sannoufi spoke of his journey from his home city of Homs, Syria, to Blackpool. Essam was a peaceful protestor against President Assad’s regime, using his media and graphic design skills to produce posters condemning the government’s action against its people.
Alongside Rebecca Joy Novell, Lancashire Refugee development officer, Essam spoke of his experiences as a refugee and Rebecca explored the issues surrounding displacement and war in her role for the county.
“I grew up in Homs which is a city in the middle of Syria, therefore I didn’t live near the borders,” explained Essam. “In 2011 I was studying French literature in my third year at university. I was living with my friends. At the same time I was running a small graphic design business.
“When the war started, my family moved to Damascus. Of course, I stood up with my people in the revolution as I did not like what was happening in my city, in my neighbourhood.
“I decided to work against the regime and join the revolution by using my media skills as a graphic designer. Any person who had these skills and passions were seen as a threat to the regime, even though all my intentions were peaceful.
“I knew we had only two options, either die or protest for freedom. I printed 1000 banners which called for freedom.
“After a year I decided to create a new programme but I could not do this while my family were in Syria as they would have been put at risk. They travelled to Lebanon and once they were safely there, I began to make a video with no equipment in a small makeshift studio in Homs which was under siege.
“I completed two series – one about people being arrested and one about what it was like to be under siege and that we needed resources and supplies. I sent these programmes to a Syrian TV channel.”
Essam’s life was under threat and he was eventually seriously injured by a sniper, spending months in makeshift hospital underground in a church, with little or no medical supplies. He was smuggled across the border to Lebanon.
“The doctors tried to keep us alive but they could not treat me specifically,” said Essam. “I was treated in the church for about four months while I was waiting to be well enough to travel. But there was no way to escape and get out of the city because of the regime. At this point I wanted to die, I thought that was the easiest option.
“Luckily my friends helped me and carried me through fields and rivers over many weeks to Lebanon. I escaped Syria illegally and met my family in Lebanon.”
Essam underwent a series of operations in Lebanon but needed specialist treatment. Through the United Nations, the British government agreed to help with Essam’s medical needs and allowed his family to come with him.
“My family all appreciated this so much it is too hard to describe. And I would like to say thank you very much for everything that your country has done for my family and also my friend,” said Essam.
The talk was organised by students from Blackpool Sixth’s equality and diversity group as part of a series of extra-curricular talks to students and staff.
Matthew Morris, assistant head of humanities at the sixth form said; “Rebecca and Essam spoke with great knowledge and passion on the subject of the refugee crisis and I have had some great feedback from students, a number of whom stayed back after the presentation to discuss the issues further.”