The civil war in Syria began in the early spring of 2011, when the Arab Spring protests multiplied across the region.
In the heat of the protests, armed fronts were formed.
The first group to gain strength was the Free Syrian Army, or FSA. A group primarily formed by seven Syrian army soldiers who defected. With the goal of fighting against government security forces that attack civilians, the FSA grew. But its influence in the region fades as rebel groups coming from the north became more effective in fighting the Syrian army’s attacks.
In 2013, when one of the FSA commanders was killed by al Qaeda operatives, details on Al-Nusra Front, another group linked to both the FSA and al Qaeda, surfaced.
It wasn’t until later that the public was informed that Al-Nusra Front had been established by al Qaeda’s central command and Abu Bakr al-Bahdadi, the leader of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL). With the pressure mounting against the FSA, Al-Nusra gained traction.
According to The Daily Telegraph, many of the soldiers that were part of Al-Nusra were veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. The link between veteran soldiers that fought the United States during the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the growth of the rebel groups inside Syria was confirmed (PDF) frequently by experts. Contrary to what Washington D.C. power players always said, neither the FSA nor Al-Nusra Front were trustworthy.
As soon as President Barack Obama decided to show his support to the Syrian rebels, Republicans like Senator John McCain decided to thicken the interventionist mass. Despite the anti-interventionist efforts promoted by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), the US government ended up sending foreign aid to “moderate” rebels. In a few months, footage of ISIS fighters driving Toyota trucks provided by the US government were flooding the Internet.
With the unintentional help from the US government and other local giants like Saudi Arabia, the Islamic State became stronger, at the expense of the FSA. In no time, millions of Syrians would have their homes, villages, and entire cities by the strongest militant group in the region.
According to the European University Institute, about 9 million Syrians left their roots back home to run away from the war being waged by rebels, ISIS, and the Syrian government.
More than 3 million sought refuge in the neighborhood nations of Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. Israel is the only country neighboring Syria that hasn’t absorbed any refugees. Instead, Israel offers medical assistance to militants that take part in the fight against Bashar al-Assad.
About 150,000 refugees sought asylum in the European Union while other countries in the region promised to bring in 33,000. About 85 percent of these refugees have moved to Germany.
In a video made by a Vine user in Hungary, a 13-year-old refugee told a local police officer that if the war ended, they would go back to Syria.
What forces millions of families and individuals to flee Syria is not the promise of a better life alone. They want to survive.
Brazilian Student: “I Had to be Strong So I Wouldn’t Cry”
In an interview for BBC Brazil, Stella Chiarelli explained that “families with very young children, pregnant women, and seniors arrive in inflatable vessels that are overcrowded” at the small island of Lesbos, in Greece.
In an interview I carried out for the Brazilian news site Spotniks, Chiarelli told me that, in the period she spent in Brazil during her Istanbul University break, ISIS invaded the city of Kobane. As other towns near the Turkish borders were also invaded, about one million refugees crossed into Turkey.
“When I went back to Istanbul, I was shocked. The city was completely different, with a lot of people in the streets asking for money. They were entire families, with several children and several seniors too. I was overwhelmed.”
It was the contact with this reality that influenced the Brazilian archeology student. When friends asked her if she would like to join them and head to Lesbos to help the refugees as a volunteer, she did not hesitate. While in the island, Chiarelli talked to several refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries from Africa.
“These people are in this situation because they want and need something better,” Chiarelli told me. “They are people who are fleeing to survive. That’s what moves me the most.” According to the student, “all of these people” have at least one thing in common, “they all want to live.”
In one of her encounters with refugees from Afghanistan, Chiarelli said a family told her that “then the Taliban controlled their town,” life used to be better, but when ISIS arrived in the region, “it was impossible to survive.”
“When someone tells you that the Taliban is not that bad in comparison to ISIS, you can only imagine what that means,” Chiarelli said.
“The mother of this family told me that her parents were killed by ISIS, her husband was abused by them, they cut his stomach and he had to undergo several surgeries to survive. She told me that the worst part of it wall was to see the bodies and heads cut out in squares across the town.”
According to the student, this family sold everything they had to flee.
To do more for refugees in Lesbos, Chiarelli decided to use the Internet as a tool. With the help of the crowd funding website Kikcante.com.br, the Brazilian student is asking the public to support her cause financially so more refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and North Africa can receive her help.
This article was originally published here.