The international community gathered in Brussels today for the EU hosted conference on “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region,” and while renewed commitment to last year’s pledges in London was expected, after 6 years of war the situation on the ground remains perilous and uncertain. The devastating impact of the Syrian conflict on children and the hopes laid on this conference were, quite unexpectedly, shown to me on Monday morning when I was out photographing the thick fog that had blanketed Brussels.
I had woken to the fog and rushed to Parc du Cinquantenaire with my camera. I wanted to shoot the sights in the area before the sun had a chance to clear it. After this I walked down Rue de la Loi to the Schuman Rotary and European Commission’s headquarters to find that Save the Children had erected a cemetery at this circle. Their communications coordinator, Susana Hidalgo kindly provided me details about the conditions for children in Syria. Save the Children cited UNICEF’s findings that last year was the conflict’s worst with at least 652 children killed, but also stressed these 6 years of war have caused “invisible wounds” to children resulting from the loss of schooling, stress of bombing/shelling and missing or lost loved ones.
Sadly this situation is not new. While I was at United Nations Regional Information Center for Western Europe (UNRIC) almost two years ago, I remember having the opportunity to hear (and photograph) UN special envoy for the Syria Crisis, Staffan De Mistura, as he discussed the difficulties in reaching peace agreement in Syria. The Guardian had just published an article by Janine di Giovanni entitled, ‘The man with the toughest job in the World,’ referring to Mr. De Mistura and his charge by the UN Secretary General to find a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict.
In this piece, Ms. di Giovanni noted that Mr. De Mistura (as with Annan and Brahimi before him) was facing criticism for not making headway, but that, “…De Mistura’s talents have been of little use in Syria: according to a senior UN official who works with him, the fundamental obstacle to any progress towards negotiations is that none of the warring parties – those fighting on the ground, as well as the regional and world powers conducting a proxy war – has any interest in stopping the conflict. “They both thought they could win, and when mediators have tried to take an impartial stance, they cry foul,” the UN official told me. “The same thing happened with Annan and Brahimi.””
There are those who are ready to help broker a peace in Syria and those that sorely need it. It is the multitude of interests to which Ms. di Giovanni referred that must act for a peaceful solution, rather than a win. Perhaps efforts like that of Save the Children showing how the conflict is impacting the people on the ground can help rein these interests in, and build pressure for peace. 6 years is long enough, as Save the Children reminded me on Monday, there are kids now who have never known peace.
—All images and text are Copyright © Michael Durickas, All Rights Reserved.