North Africa, West Asia

Afraid of the dark

#withSyria
16 March 2015

Syria has gone dark. Not figuratively—although an argument could be made for that too—but literally. Satellite imagery shows that in the four years since the crisis in Syria began, 83 percent of the lights visible over the country have gone out.

The images underline the destruction that has been wrought on Syria and its people, by Assad’s government, armed groups and Da’esh. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed and millions forced to flee, while others are illegally detained and tortured.

An international campaign launched by the #withSyria coalition stands in solidarity with those caught in the conflict. The coalition is a movement of 130 humanitarian and human rights organisations from around the world, including Amnesty International, International Rescue Committee, Oxfam, and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). The coalition, which analysed the satellite images with scientists at Wuhan University in China, has launched a global petition at withsyria.com, and a video, Afraid of the Dark. 

The petition calls on world leaders to ‘turn the lights back on in Syria’ by prioritising a political solution with human rights at its heart; boosting the humanitarian response both for those inside Syria and refugees; and insisting that all parties put an end to attacks on civilians and stop blocking aid. The video was created by BAFTA-winning agency Don’t Panic and production partners UNIT9, to mark the four-year anniversary of this conflict and shine light on one of its most under-reported repercussions. As Richard Beer, Creative Director of Don't Panic, says,

"It is a literal truth that 83 percent of Syria's lights have gone out since the start of the war, but the darkness that afflicts them has a metaphorical truth that goes deeper. We wanted to use this shocking statistic to tell the story of just how far Syria has fallen into darkness, in every conceivable way, despite UN resolutions and international outcry. The hero of our film, Khalid, could afford to be afraid of the dark four years ago; now he faces far worse every day, despite his own bravery. He, and all Syrians like him, need our help."

Despite the UN Security Council adopting three resolutions demanding protection and assistance for civilians in Syria in 2014, more Syrians are being killed and displaced or are in need of help than ever before. A new Oxfam report released today, Failing Syria, accuses warring parties and powerful states of failing to implement these resolutions. Human rights organisations have unanimously condemned the failure of the international community to respond to the crisis.

Philip Luther, director of the MENA programme at Amnesty International, says, "the international community’s failure to unite to address one of the defining human rights crises of our times sends the signal that it is wantonly indifferent to the devastating impact of the conflict on civilians in Syria. Such indifference must end."

The world's attention has been focused on Syria, but the "rise of terrorist groups...has distracted governments from the suffering of ordinary Syrians," says Dr Zaher Sahoul, President of the Syrian American Medical Society. "Every day Syrian medics, aid workers and teachers are taking enormous risks to help their neighbours and loved ones, while the international community continuously fails to pursue a political solution and an end to the violence and suffering."

Last year, 2014, had been the worst year yet according to Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council. "Civilians are not protected as the Security Council promised they would be, their access to relief has not improved and humanitarian funding is declining compared to the needs. It is an outrage how we are failing Syrians."

David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, says that "Syrians deserve much better from the international community—it is past time to show that we have not given up and will work with them to turn the lights back on."

See the video on the website, withSyria.comYouTube, and Facebook.

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Hear from:

Paolo Gerbaudo Sociologist and political theorist, director of the Centre for Digital Culture at King’s College London and author of ‘The Mask and the Flag: Populism and Global Protest’ and ‘The Digital Party: Political Organisation and Online Democracy’, and of the forthcoming ‘The Great Recoil: Politics After Populism and Pandemic’.

Chantal Mouffe Emeritus Professor of Political Theory at the University of Westminster in London. Her most recent books are ‘Agonistics. Thinking the World Politically’, ‘Podemos. In the Name of the People’ and ‘For a Left Populism’.

Spyros A. Sofos Researcher and research coordinator at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University and author of ‘Nation and Identity in Contemporary Europe’, ‘Tormented by History’ and ‘Islam in Europe: Public Spaces and Civic Networks'.

Chair: Walid el Houri Researcher, journalist and filmmaker based between Berlin and Beirut. He is partnerships editor at openDemocracy and lead editor of its North Africa, West Asia project.

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