FIVE years ago today civil war broke out in Syria. It came two months after a Tunisian fruit seller named Mohamed Bouazizi had set himself on fire to protest against the confiscation of his fruit.
This set off a wave of protests across the Middle East which became known as the Arab Spring. Within 60 days there were protests and uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
In Syria, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to protest against President Assad and so began one of the most brutal civil wars of modern times.
Estimates say between 151,695 to 366,140 have been killed on all sides. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says over three million people have fled the country and over six million have been internally displaced.
The war has helped create a refugee crisis which could affect Britain’s EU membership and has put unprecedented pressure on the EU’s borders. It has also presented ISIS with a great opportunity to establish its state.
Below are five ways the Syrian War has affected our city.
1. Cardiffians killed in drone strikes.
Last August 21-year-old Reyaad Khan, from Riverside, was was killed in Syria by a drone strike ordered by the UK government.
Prime Minister David Cameron announced to the House of Commons: “We should be under no illusion. Their intention was the murder of British citizens. So on this occasion we ourselves took action.”
Former Cantonian High School student Khan had wanted to become the first Asian Prime Minister before he was radicalised and had been described as a diligent student.
Once in Syria he posted a series of boastful tweets including: “Executed many prisoners yesterday” and “Anyone want to sponsor my explosive belt? Gucci, give me a shout”.
2. Songs for Syria.
St Teilo’s Church in Wales High School produced a song to help raise awareness and money for the Syrian people back in 2013.
Working alongside the charity Human Appeal the song was called “We hold the Key” and it got over 1,000 views on YouTube.
The song headlined an event at the Cardiff City Stadium as part of the Sound of Light Tour. Othman Moqbel, Chief Executive of Human Appeal, said: “We thought the song was so good and carried such a strong message we had to give it a chance to be heard on stage.”
3. Grangetown man jailed for helping jihadists
In February Kristen Brekke from Pentre Street in Grangetown was sentenced to four-and-a-half years for assisting fellow Cardiff boy Aseel Muthana in joining ISIS. He brought him combat clothes from Ebay and helped him plan his trip.
The pair had become friends when they were working together at Ice Cream Passion on Claire Road. He was convicted of ‘preparing for acts of terrorism’ and the Judge told him: “These acts of preparation were clear and determined and in my judgment they suggested certainly you…were waiting in the wings to assist anyone ready to travel to Syria.”
4. Cardiff’s generosity shines through
Last Autumn hundreds of people gathered around the statue of Aneurin Bevan on Queen Street to begin a march in support of taking more refugees. The same was seen when appeals were put out for donations and clothes.
Cardiff STAR, the student group set up to support refugees, carried out weekly drops to send out to camps in Calais and beyond. A campaign by the MP Jo Stevens had to issue the following notice: “Due to the overwhelming generosity of people in Cardiff Central our office is now full so we are unable to take any more donations at the moment.”
During a time of need, the people of Cardiff turned out in force to show their support to the people of Syria.
5. Wristbands and vandalism
Cardiff was the scene of controversy earlier this year when asylum seekers at Lynx House on Newport Road – many of whom were Syrian – were made to wear wristbands in order to get food.
Labour MP Jo Stevens spoke out against the actions of Lynx House owner Clearsprings and assisted in getting the wristband policy changed.
The next week her office on Albany Road was vandalised and her face had a sniper target drawn over it.
The full story was exclusively broken by the Cardiffian.