What does a war-workplace look like?

Is it next hour, is it tonight, today, perhaps tomorrow? A question that loomed in Abdul Razaq Ja’ar’s head every day thinking and worrying. Ja’ar’s could not help taking his mind off thinking about the bombs and warplanes when he used to walk to his work in Ferash Radio a few months ago in the town of Kafranbel in Idlib rural.

In his daily routine, Ja’ar heads to the office in the afternoon, preparing the daily news brief. “From my home to my workplace, I was always accompanied with nonstop shelling or warplanes flying around the town, shelling sometimes and only flying very closely to the ground which is equally frightening.” Ja’ar’s said,

Expecting massacre

The daily horror in the Union of Revolutionary Bureaus (URB)’s headquarters that encompassed 150 employees approximately was indescribable frightening. “It made me think of the image of the aftermath of any direct target against the building, it could have been a bloodbath.” He added. Once, while taking his time to go to the office in May 2019, the atmosphere in the town was intense, the smell of the city and the earthshaking sounds of explosions made the town look like a ghost-city “I made it that day to the office’s building the attacks became closer.” Ja’ar said. The harrowing shelling circumstances were a normal part of people’s lives in the past months in northern Syria in general. Assad-Russian led campaign against the demilitarized area did not stop since September 2019.  

we did not know where to go or hide, no underground basement was available to shelter during the bombardment

Abdul Razaq Ja’ar’s – URB Radio Fresh

Ja’ar had to ignore these distractions and put together the afternoon news hour, however, the next attack were 20 meters far from the building to which turned into an utter anarchy state, “we did not know where to go or hide, no underground basement was available to shelter during the bombardment.” the radio producer said. “Miraculously there were no casualties, and the whole building was evacuated, and we were sent home while the jets and bombs could be heard not far far away from me.”

URB Radio Fresh

According to Reporters Without Borders, Syria stands at the 174 level among 180 countries around the world in terms of safety for media and press. According to the Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ) annual report in 2019, five journalists were killed in 2019.

Risk management

Osama Ahamd, the 40-years old administration member of the URB explains that following the escalation against the city and northern-Syria, overall, the organization initiated the emergency plan in the building to only rely on the minimum staff capacity to run the building. “We planned to only have the least number of members of staff to avoid loss of life, at least until a ceasefire takes place. The NGOs offices across Syria were under bombing alike all civilian targets, we were not an exception,” UBR manger said

After a harrowing day at URB’s HQ when the staff underwent was on the 25th a nearby attack to the headquarter took place, “The staff have immediately evacuated the building,”

URB headquarter after the attak

The horror of the evacuation recurred once again “It felt like walking to death, knowing that an attack will happen in any minute and seeing everyone rushing away from the building which was later attacked, but thankfully the building was empty and the damages were minor,”

After that day, the administration, given the worsening security reasons, decided to stop its offices across the city. The Radio station, nonetheless, kept relatively functioning and streaming news but changing the office regularly in the city for security concerns. The instability carried on for months and the attack waves were constant making the capacity of URB and other local NGOs capacity to carry harder and rather reckless act, Ahmad explained that, despite the difficulties, their teams are scaling up their efforts to help the largest numbers of people affected internally displaced people and cooperated with other NGOs.

Grave escalation 

According to the Response Coordination Group 2019 final report, the humanitarian workers counted 38 casualties including aid workers, medical workers and civil defence. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has confirmed over 1,300 civilian deaths, including over 300 children, since the launch of the offensive campaign, nearly all of which are attributable to the Syrian government and Russian forces.  There have been at least 68 documented attacks on healthcare facilities. Attacks by government forces have dramatically increased since the end of December, with entire villages razed and civilian evacuation routes reportedly targeted. The hostilities have resulted in over a million displaced and the numbers are still rising. 

Ahamd recalls what happened, In December 2019, when the URB HQ was targeted with two airstrikes and destroyed a significant part of the building with zero-casualties . The building only suffered from major damages and almost full equipment losses. A month later the building was deliberately crashed again by two airstrikes that turned the whole building into rubble.

“Our staff is scattered across northern Syria and our capacity to work efficiently as we used to be has dramatically been affected” said Ahmad.

While international laws afford aid workers certain protections and privileges, the Syrian-Russian forces, has followed far away from the ethics of war according to the international norms and rules of engagement in war-zones. The civil society organizations found themselves caught between a pledge to protect and a reality in which political powers try to co-opt, restrict or attack their work.

The local civil society groups are gradually due to bombardment or high risks in the work environment, their workplace is shrinking, their staff who are being targeted, killed or displaced, and eventually.

“Donors took a shortcut path and stopped their programs leaving the Syrian civil society in limbo. They are risking years of work are now on the edge of getting lost, while the syrian society is facing the worst humanitarian crisis since 2011, left behind in their endeavour  to survive.” according to Ahamd,

Over 3,800 humanitarian workers are still detained or forcibly disappeared at the hands of Syrian regime forces.

The international community should be looking for solutions, the attacks should be stopped and enforcement measures should be applied to maintain peace and support the nemours numbers of displaced civilians

URB Administrator

“The alternative has become more death and mass exodus of Syrian people and prolonging the efforts of recovery from the war that Assad nor Russia stopped waging against the Syrian people.” 

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