My name is Rashed al Ahmad. I’m a pharmacist originally from Kurnaz, a small village in Hama countryside. I fled my home years ago to avoid being detained or killed by the regime simply because I was helping others. In 2014, I moved with my family to a nearby village outside the regime’s control called Kafr Nabouda. There, I started working at a primary health centre until a month ago when the regime, backed by Russia, destroyed our health centre and our village and forced us again to flee.
I used to work such long hours at the health centre, doing all I could to serve my new community. I never thought that Russia and the regime would target us. The centre was so small, most of our patients were children and the elderly.
Ten days after the attack, in a briefing to the UN Security Council about the assault on northwest Syria, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock mentioned my village as he was listing health facilities in northwest Syria that had been bombed out of service. I waited to hear him name and shame the perpetrators, but he never did. Since that speech, he still hasn’t condemned the bombers.
Around three years ago, doctors at my health centre had to decide whether or not to share the building’s coordinates with the United Nations. As part of its deconfliction mechanism, the UN shares the coordinates of humanitarian facilities with parties involved in the Syrian conflict, including the regime and Russia. The hope is that the two allies, the only ones with aerial capabilities, will then avoid targeting health facilities.
People here tell a little joke about the deconfliction mechanism. A hospital protected under it was bombed. The UN asked the Russians if they did it. The Russians said that they didn’t mean to bomb the hospital but the bakery near it. It’s a dark joke because this is the reality in Syria where bombing hospitals seems no longer to be a crime and labelling the perpetrators seems no longer to be the UN’s duty. All crimes are attributed to unknown perpetrators in spite of all the information, photos, and testimonies available.
Since the conflict began in 2011, the regime and Russia have bombed more than 500 health facilities, killing over 1,000 medical workers. Despite this, our centre’s doctors trusted in the UN and believed that sharing the coordinates of the centre would best guarantee our safety. After a great deal of deliberation, they contacted the UN.
When I heard that Mr Lowcock planned to talk about the bombing of hospitals, I felt hopeful. But when I heard his address I just felt confused and angry. Mr Lowcock said that 18 health centres have been targeted in two weeks. He knew that the coordinates of five of them were known to the UN, and that it had passed this information on to Russia and the regime.
As I watched Mr Lowcock speak, I kept readying myself to see the ashamed face of Russia’s representative to the UN but Mr Lowcock refused to confront Russia for what it is doing in Syria. Throughout his whole address, Mr Lowcock took care not to mention who was responsible for the attacks.
A month after the bombing of our health centre, the UN does not seem able to stop the regime and Russia nor to condemn their brutal crimes. But the absolute minimum they owe us is the honesty to tell the truth about who is targeting us. It is to their shame that they refuse to do so.
Since 26 April, when Russia and the regime began their bombing campaign on Idlib, 25 health facilities have been targeted and a total of 49 facilities have suspended their services. The continuous airstrikes have triggered the largest collective displacement in Syria’s nine years of conflict with 300,000 people forced to flee across the northwest. At least 270 civilians have been killed.
My wife, our three children and I now live in a displacement camp near the Turkish border. I worry about the sick people of my village, where are they now and how are they managing their illnesses? These patients whose prescriptions I know by heart, what will happen to them?
Three-quarters of the hospitals in northwest Syria were built after the uprising began. We built them and have rebuilt them, because the Syrian regime bombs and destroys hospitals, and we must rebuild them or die. But I want to ask the world—who will help us return to Kafr Nabouda? Who will tell me that our decision to share the coordinates of our centre was the right decision? Will we ever see the perpetrators held accountable?
Rashed al Ahmad is a pharmacist from Hama, northern Syria.