A small boy gasps for air, each breath becoming more laboured than the last. Desperate to live, he continues. His breathing is increasingly shallow, increasingly erratic, as his lungs fill with fluid. Soon he will be dead. Around him, children are already foaming at the mouth, others unable to control their muscles as they battle convulsions.
These are the innocent victims of a suspected chemical attack in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun, which this week left more than 72 people dead and hundreds more injured, including many children. Videos of the horrific attack quickly surfaced online, much of it too distressing for news outlets to broadcast.
In the past, shocking images from the Syrian conflict have been enough to prompt immediate responses from the public and global leaders. The image of three-year-old Alan Kurdi lying lifeless on a beach in Turkey remains seared into my memory, and arguably did more to shape people's opinion about the conflict and subsequent refugee crisis than anything else.
After more than six years of bloody fighting in Syria, it has left me wondering -- what will it take to sufficiently shock the world into action?
There is little doubt the pictures of the toddler contributed to the Australian Government's decision in 2015 to resettle an additional 12,000 refugees who were fleeing the conflict in Syria, as well as Iraq. Sadly, I don't see this latest attack prompting the same response. After more than six years of bloody fighting in Syria, it has left me wondering -- what will it take to sufficiently shock the world into action?
Sure, there has been the usual chorus of condemnation from world leaders. Australia's foreign minister Julie Bishop was among them, saying the use of chemical weapons is both illegal and abhorrent.
But we owe the people of Syria more than that. We owe them more than a strongly worded statement.
Since the Syrian conflict began there have been countless international conferences with noble goals but few tangible benefits for families who continue to suffer. With ongoing attacks and aerial bombings across Idlib and elsewhere in Syria, humanitarian organisations continue to respond to the emergency needs of displaced families, many with no shelter, little food, or access to clean water and proper sanitation.
On Tuesday, as Khan Sheikhoun was being bombed, I was attending yet another international conference on Syria, this time in Brussels. The timing of the attack was a stark reminder to delegates that pledges of solidarity are simply not enough.
A political solution is the only way to stop the slaughter and the misery. But until that is secured, funding must be made available to ensure Syrians are protected, wherever they are.
While this week's atrocities have put the spotlight back on the conflict, it is worth remembering this is not an isolated incident.
The United Nations has recognised the humanitarian needs in Syria have grown too large to comprehensively address, with 13.5 million people now in need. And that's just inside Syria. We crossed a further grim milestone last week, when the number of people who have fled the country since the conflict began surpassed 5 million. Families have sought safety and refuge in neighbouring Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and beyond. Without an immediate and effective end to the bombardment and the fighting, Syrian civilians will continue to suffer, whether at home or trapped in exile.
Syria is the biggest humanitarian and refugee crisis of our time. And while this week's atrocities have put the spotlight back on the conflict, it is worth remembering this is not an isolated incident. It is a small window into the everyday lives of people trapped in a brutal war, through no choice of their own, and with no way out.
The temptation, when awful events like this happen, is for us to turn off and tune out. Naturally, we want to cocoon ourselves from the outside world when faced with evidence of these horrific attacks.
But for more than half a million civilians living under siege, that is not an option. For the three million children born into this war, they know nothing else. What they count on is our generosity and our ability to put pressure on our leaders to do more to find diplomatic solutions.
Ignoring Syria is not an option.
Donate to CARE's Syria Crisis Appeal at www.care.org.au/syria
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