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Sunday 7 January 2017

South African humanitarians say the situation in Syria is “dire”
and they have appealed to locals to continue donating. “Suffering is widespread and it’s a human disaster.”

Social activist and founder of #OperationSA Yusuf Abramjee and Al-Imdaad Foundation trustee Qari Ziyaad Patel returned from the Turkish/Syrian border at the weekend.

Speaking on their return, the two humanitarians said what they saw over five days “continues to haunt us…It’s painful. We are still on an emotional roller coaster.”

Abramjee and Patel were given official permission to enter Syria through a “safe humanitarian corridor.”

“It’s winter in the region. It’s bitterly cold and raining and snowing in some areas, Abramjee said.

Tens of thousands of Syrians were forced to leave their homes over recent months because of the war.

“When one comes face to face with the victims of the devastating war, the effects hit you right in the face. What we witnessed broke our hearts,” Abramjee said.

“We saw the Good, Bad and Ugly. It was good to see all the humanitarian efforts. But more needs to be done. We saw the bad in terms of orphans and widows suffering. And we saw the very ugly side to the war such as people paralyzed,” he said.

The IHH Turkish based Humanitarian Relief Foundation, hosted the South Africans which included three other volunteers from the Al-Imdaad Foundation.

Patel said: “On one day alone, we counted some 100 trucks loaded with food, blankets, mattresses and other essential ready to go to the various camps. Most left the following morning for Aleppo.

“Aid including food, blankets, clothing, mattresses and medicines continues to arrive and leave the warehouses,”‘said Abramjee.

Abramjee said there are some 3-million Syrian refugees on the border with Turkey. In Reyhanli alone, are 120 000 refugees.

“Children always face the worst nightmare when it comes to war. There are about 1-million young refugees and only 50% go to school.
There are 1500 orphans (ages 2
to 12) in Reyhanli alone,”
he added.

“We joined aid workers into Idlib Syria. Trucks line the border waiting to go in with aid. Along the way, life appears to continue as normal. Stores are open. But there is total destruction in other areas,”
he said.

Patel said: “Children in large numbers greeted us warmly when we arrived at the refugee camps. Others play in the mud and in between the rocks. Most women are in their tiny tents.”

The team also visited a refugee camp some 20km from the border which has about 150 000 Syrians. “It’s a sea of white and blue tents.”

Patel says in addition to food, clothing, mattresses and blankets, baby food and medicines are also urgently needed.

Abramjee said: “We visited a ‘Block Housing’ project launched by the IHH not far from the refugee camp.

“Each unit costs US$8000 (About R108 000) and once open will accommodate an entire family. They need sponsors. Widows and their families will receive priority,” he said.

The Tiny Hearts Village will be the biggest orphanage in the world when it is opened in Reyhanli in a few weeks.

Patel said: “We visited the construction site and the village will be completed in a few months. Some South African charities have donated to the homes.

Abramjee said: “Our heart broke when we visited an orphanage and women’s trauma centre in the area earlier.

“Children between 2 and 15 years of age have lost their fathers and mothers. Some kids draw sketches of their houses which were bombed. Others draw their dads and mums who were killed.

“Little Ahmed (2) posed with such a lovely smile as we took selfies. He clinched his tiny hand onto my fingers and refused to let go. He showed me his tiny ‘tent’ which he said in Arabic is his

Abramjee said: “Look in little Ahmed’s eyes. This baby wouldn’t let go of my hand. Ahmed is one of some 300 000 children who have been orphaned by the war in Syria. I met him when the IHH and Al-Imdaad Foundation took me to the Halima Al Saadia Orphanage in Reyhanli.

“I was not heroic, I was protected, and within days back to the comfort of my family. Ahmed wasn’t protected when shells fell, killing his parents, and he is not protected sufficiently now. There are 1-million kids in refugee camps around the Syrian/Turkish border.

“South Africans have been so supportive with #OperationSA. But my eyes have been opened by this visit, and I have to report to you that the need is even greater than I dreaded. I’m asking you to dig deeper…please help for Ahmed’s sake,” Abramjee added.

Patel said: “We also visited a centre which houses Syrian widows. Many were raped in front of their children. It is tragic. The counseling continues,” he said.

Abramjee said a stop at a hospital and rehabilitation centre brought home the real effects of the war.

“Severe burns. Missing legs. Hands blown off. Some paralyzed. These are but only a handful of thousands of Syrians injured. Their lives have been torn apart. Some have left their families in refugee camps, others in Syria. Many have lost their entire families.

“One man told us: ‘I’m angry. This is what war does…God must help us.’ His leg was blown off by a limpet mine,” Abramjee said.

“One elderly man at the rehabilitation centre says he arrived from Aleppo a few days ago. He was shot in the leg. It is covered in bandages and pins.”

The Al-Imdaad has already channeled funds raised by itself and #OperationSA to various IHH programmes.

“We will monitor the distribution over the next few weeks and also the work of other charities we donated millions of rands to,” Abramjee said.

The delegation also visited a Syrian widow in urgent need of an eye operation to avoid blindness.

“Medical reports said the 31-year-old mother of two only has 1% eyesight. If nothing is done, she stands the risk of going completely blind. US$ 8000 is needed for the operation. It took 10 minutes to raise the money back home,” the team said.

“Let’s continue to assist,” Abramjee appealed.

To pledge for the #SAveSyria #OperationSA initiative, SMS 072 3 99 99 99 or go to

#OperationSA has received R15,1-million in pledges over the past three weeks. Almost R11-million has been paid. This is a recall of 72%. R9,7-million has been distributed to seven charities.

“Every rand donated will make a difference. Now is the time to #SAveSyria.

“My heart is bleeding and will do so I suspect for a very long time. I feel the pain of the Syrian refugees. The world needs to feel their pain. We are one,” Abramjee said.

“With South Africans and the world helping, there is hope. But the harsh reality is that the suffering continues for now,” Patel added.

#OperationSA has received several requests from people back home who want to come and volunteer with humanitarian work. “We are exploring a few options and there is a need for professionals such as doctors, psychologists and teachers.”

“We have also received scores of enquiries about people who want to adopt orphans. Experts here say this is not an option for now because taking children out of this environment can be detrimental and there are a number of legal issues as well. But what we can do is sponsor an orphan. It costs about R650 per child per month,” Patel said.


Yusuf Abramjee
Cell 082 4414 203
Twitter: @abramjee

Qari Ziyaad Patel
Cell (082) 7867755
Twitter: @qariziyaadpatel

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