Aid worker ‘shocked’ by conditions faced by Syrians
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