Acts of Kindness Offer Hope To Syrian Refugees in Salamiyah

Article Summary
The city of Salamiyah has welcomed refugees from nearby Hama for a long time, writes Abdallah al-Shaar. Although the city stands with the opposition, it remains a model for solidarity among the Syrian people, where acts of kindness and altruism haven't stopped despite threats and dangerous conditions.

Let us go back in time to a few months ago when the Syrian regime cracked down (even though it continues to do so now) on the rebels who took to the streets. The following article is inspired by facts and experiences from Hama and the city of Salamiyah located nearby. Salamiyah is in large part populated by a sectarian minority: the Ismailis.

Salamiyah, located in the center of Syria, has, to this day, always been a safe haven for refugees fleeing from Homs and Hama in particular. The number of refugees from Hama has reached 20,000. In the summer of 2011, the silent opposition of Salamiyah rushed to help the refugees while the regime's Shabiha established checkpoints and barriers at the city’s entrance to prevent families from Hama from entering the city. The Red Crescent director in Salamiyah, who is pro-regime, of course, issued a statement on state-controlled media outlets saying that the Red Crescent was sheltering refugees who fled the "armed terrorist thugs." Shortly afterwards, the Baath Party bureau in Salamiyah started asking for documents stating the names of the refugees as a condition for the receipt of aid. Of course, the activists of Salamiyah refused.

What's more, despite the dire economic situation faced by the people of Salamiyah, they made sure to provide food baskets to every refugee family through voluntary contributions. Salamiyah inhabitants and activists have refused to accept money in return for food baskets, or for the rental houses they have provided for the displaced. All that mattered to them was helping the refugee families and making sure that they were not abused and, as could be expected, the opposition in Salamiyah rose to the occasion. It must also be noted that the Shabiha cracked down as hard on the few pro-regime families in Salamiyah, as they did on those supporting the opposition.

More than 10 babies were born in governmental and private hospitals of Salamiyah, and the costs for all these births were covered by the city’s activists — the people of Salamiyah believe that good deeds should not be bought or paid for. The displacement of people from Hama coincided with the holy month of Ramadan, and those from Salamiyah prepared food for iftar [the breaking of the fast] and sent it the homes of refugees. Many invited refugees to come partake in the iftar in their homes. In August 2011, when the regime dealt a severe blow to the city of Hama, the city's people were in need of blood donations to governmental and private hospitals. The people of Salamiyah rushed to help. The city activists and opposition movements have set their mind to standing up against the regime should it try to harm the refugees from Hama.

Hama's refugees joined hands with the inhabitants of Salamiyah people to organize peaceful demonstrations against the regime. In one of these many protests, one veiled woman from Hama took the microphone and gave a speech, ending it with a prayer. This made the protesters cry and ignited anger in their hearts. For the first time, provocative slogans such as "Low men have sold out the Golan Heights," were shouted in Salamiyah. The protesters were keen to carefully choose its slogans to as not to provoke some of its other inhabitants.

The city’s activists used to form long lines in front of the bakers waiting to buy bread for the refugees, as the regime banned the purchase of more than three bags of bread for each citizen. The bread was gathered and sent to the city of Hama.

Coexistence and solidarity have been the basis of the relationship between the citizens of Salamiyah and Hama. The regime has sought to break this bond by opening shelters in schools to accommodate any new refugees fleeing the city of Hama. The Shabiha have come knocking on the doors of Salamiyah residents to get the names of refugees they were sheltering. The thugs were never welcomed in.

The city of Salamiyah is that of the opposition, love and poetry. It has been the safe haven for all those who have sought refuge within it. It has been the example of civil, social coexistence among Syrians. Despite the regime's efforts to portray the revolution as "the acts by armed terrorist groups and sectarian gangs which seek to undermine the security and stability of the country,"  Salamiyah is a clear illustration of the Syrian people’s national solidarity.

Found in: syrian revolution, syrian refugees, syrian, shabiha, salamiyah, hama

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