'The world needs to wake up': Toronto's Syrian community calls for action on 6th day of deadly bombing
The GTA's Syrian community and its advocates are coming together to call for action to stop a siege on Syria's district of eastern Ghouta, an area on the edge of Damascus that has reportedly seen over 400 deaths in less than a week.
"The people of Ghouta right now have no hope in life. They are looking to the world, and they know the world has a blind eye on them," said Sam Jisri, the executive director at Syrian Active Volunteers in Mississauga.
For years 400,000 people have been under siege in eastern Ghouta, but on Sunday the government's bombardment ramped up sharply, causing hundreds of civilian casualties.
The number of citizens killed in six days of bombing has reached 471, including 114 children and 64 women, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor, with more than 2,330 wounded from the assault by Syria's military and its allies.
And Jisri, a Syrian immigrant who came to Canada with his mother when he was three, is determined to rouse Canadians to care yet again about a cause he fears his adopted country may be ignoring.
"It is like they're watching TV and after they're watching so much episodes they get bored and they flip the channel," he told CBC Toronto on Friday afternoon, in between speaking at a news conference and attending a vigil at Yonge-Dundas Square.
The UN Security Council was scheduled to vote Friday on a resolution calling for a 30-day truce in the war, but it was rescheduled to Saturday.
"Some of the families are underground, digging holes, sitting in shelters," Jisri said.
"Hundreds of families gathering together underneath an old building beneath the basement," he said, his voice full of emotion. "The vulnerable one is the one who is stuck behind."
Waiting for a miracle
Jay Abdel's entire family is in the besieged region. They've been sitting in a tunnel for the last seven days with no water or food, he said after the news conference at the Syrian community centre in Mississauga on Friday. He said he watches from afar, and speaks to his mother and four brothers and sisters "when there's no planes, and when they have a chance."
"They're just sitting one next to the other, hoping a miracle will happen and take them out of there," he told CBC Toronto.
During the vigil Friday evening Joanna Kader held a sign with pictures of wounded Syrian children. It's crumpled and bent from use at countless numbers of vigils over the last seven years.
"This is pretty sad that I'm still holding the same banner and it's still relevant," she said.
Anas Al-Kassem, the co-founder of the humanitarian organization Union of Medical Care and Relief, is a trauma surgeon from Syria who spent time in Aleppo during the war, and he's been in touch with medical staff on the ground in eastern Ghouta.
His group says 23 medical facilities have been targeted in the most recent attacks. Doctors and nurses are living on one meal a day, he said.
'Canada can make a difference'
For Jisri, the death and destruction has become almost too much. When asked what steps his group is taking next, he gets quiet.
"We are considering doing nothing just like the rest of the world."
But then he pulls together and invokes Justin Trudeau's name, and pleads for the "beloved" prime minister to take action and call the UN into a meeting.
"Canada can make a difference. They can lead the world in this," he said, practically shouting.
"We need to wake up again, and the world needs to wake up."