Aid worker ‘shocked’ by con­di­tions faced by Syr­i­ans

Surrey Advertiser - - Front Page -

SYRIA is an un­con­ven­tional place to spend the sum­mer months, but Wok­ing res­i­dent Alan Tom­lin­son spent a week there last month.

Mr Tom­lin­son, who works for CAFOD, the Catholic aid agency, trav­elled to the coastal city of Latakia to visit nearby projects sup­port­ing dis­placed Syr­i­ans and was shocked by what he saw.

He said: “I vis­ited four fam­i­lies on house vis­its and it was shock­ing to see the con­di­tions they lived in.

“One fam­ily was liv­ing in the cel­lar of a block of flats, which was not re­ally fit for hu­man habi­ta­tion.

“It was very gloomy and the fam­ily talked about the num­ber of cock­roaches and rats that both­ered them at night. There were two young girls, around nine and ten, study­ing for ex­ams, who were com­plain­ing of con­stant headaches from study­ing in such dark­ness.”

It was Mr Tom­lin­son’s sec­ond trip to Syria – he first went there on hol­i­day with his wife in 2010, be­fore the Arab Spring protests trig­gered the on­go­ing civil war.

Even on this visit, the rel­a­tive se­cu­rity of Latakia – in a gov­ern­ment con­trolled area – pro­vided a stark con­trast to the sit­u­a­tion of the dis­placed fam­i­lies.

He said: “It was quite sur­real. Women and fam­i­lies were out on the street and it was very cos­mopoli­tan.

“Restau­rants and cafes were open and it felt safe walk­ing around. I was What­sap­ping my wife pho­to­graphs of the ho­tels and cafes and she was sur­prised by how normal it looked.

“With the news you just see war and fight­ing, so you can be tripped up into think­ing that’s what Syria is like – but the peo­ple are in­cred­i­bly hos­pitable. When we vis­ited some in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple, who had noth­ing, they were of­fer­ing us tea and snacks.”

To date, the UN es­ti­mates the con­flict in Syria has killed more than 310,000 peo­ple and 14.9 mil­lion are in need of ur­gent hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance.

CAFOD is one of sev­eral char­i­ties work­ing in Syria and with refugees in neigh­bour­ing coun­tries, en­sur­ing peo­ple af­fected by the cri­sis have food, re­lief sup­plies and safe places to stay.

De­spite the chaos of the civil war, Mr Tom­lin­son is hope­ful for Syria’s fu­ture.

He said: “I def­i­nitely hope to re­turn as a tourist, but it’s likely I will re­turn there with my job first. Hope­fully the con­flict will end as soon as pos­si­ble and give the Syr­ian peo­ple a chance to re­build their lives, liveli­hoods and homes.”

Alan Tom­lin­son (right) meeting dis­placed peo­ple in Syria

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