Human kindness amid unspeakable horror
It was a story of staring down death against all the odds, and rescuers from different countries that pulled together to save them in a race against time. It was a story of great humanity and triumph, and for once it felt so good to write about something with a positive and victorious outcome.
Too often we spend our time as journalists shining a spotlight on the darker side of humanity, or shall we say the dark side of the moon.
The objective is first and foremost to inform, and secondly to provoke some action either on the part of government or the international community, in defence of peoples’ basic rights and freedoms.
One couldn’t write only about the Thai cave rescue this week without giving equal space to a far more horrifying story that did not have such a positive outcome.
As I sat down to tell the story of the 330000 Syrian men, women and children who fled for their lives to escape the bombing campaign in the town of Daraa in south-western Syria, I could feel the depression setting in - yet another tale of unspeakable horror, and the overwhelming obligation to tell it.
There were all too few images of the hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped over the past fortnight at the sealed-off borders of Israel and Jordan. The civilians, half of whom were children, were fleeing bombardment and devastation, only for neighbouring countries to say they were full and there was nowhere for them to run to.
This must be every refugee’s worst nightmare, to flee unspeakable horror only to find themselves prevented from leaving their borders to find safe haven. After all, international refugee law obliges neighbouring countries to allow refugees fleeing war in.
What became of these victims fleeing a total military onslaught on Daraa - the place the Syrian war began and the place the government would ensure it would ultimately end? They were left stranded - not on a rock shelf in a dark cave - but in the desert with no drinkable water, nothing to shelter them from the blazing sun, and many of them dying from dehydration, contaminated water - and even scorpion stings.
Since Tuesday this week a woman and her 27 family members were hiding in the desert at the border in a makeshift tent made of floor mats. Her nephew had been killed in the airstrikes on Daraa and she told those who would listen that they had been “living in horror”.
For this mass of humanity there was no recourse but to dig holes in the ground as makeshift toilets, and pull whatever materials they could find over sticks in order to get some relief from the sun.
Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, called it a “catastrophe in the making which could be stopped at any moment”.
But there was no political will to stop the suffering, just as there has been no political will in the last seven years of brutal war to give the civilian population any sustainable relief.
There are certainly no angels among the protagonists. Our BRICS partner, Russia and ally, Syria, did not hesitate to launch eight targeted airstrikes on hospitals in southern Syria in eight days - it was all in the name of military victory by any means necessary.
It almost seems pointless to write about, as the more we know, the less there seems we can do about it.
In this sense ignorance is sometimes bliss.
But just when the whole story began to turn my stomach yet again, I read something that truly amazed me.
When no emergency supplies were being sent to these helpless human beings who merely wanted to survive, the residents of the Palestinian refugee camps across the border in Jordan mobilised literally everything they could possibly share in order to show their solidarity with other human beings in need.
Jerash refugee camp, with a population of 30000, and Souf refugee camp with 18000 residents are already places of great need, having had to manage as refugees since the camps were established in 1968 after the Arab-Israeli war.
But over the past fortnight many of these refugees started to donate half of what they had, one woman even giving away half of her only bag of baby’s milk formula as a donation to the Syrian refugees.
It was the same glimpse of human goodness that was evident in the Thai cave rescue - the essential goodness came shining through like a magnificent bright light through the gruesome darkness. Yes, there still is some good in the world, we just have to look very hard to find it.
* Shannon Ebrahim is the group's foreign editor
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