Solidarity with Karim

By: Shivani Verma

The war in Syria has left millions of people poor, hungry, injured, or dead. Many of these innocent victims are children. Among these children is a two-month-old infant—Karim. Karim was first wounded on October 29, 2017 when the Syrian regime attacked a marketplace in Eastern Ghouta.[1] The attack killed Karim’s mother by cracking open her skull.[2] Karim was found under his mother’s body.[3] He was alive but was bleeding from his skull.[4]

After being treated for his injuries, Karim was discharged from the hospital, but he was not safe. Just ten days after being released from the hospital, the weeks-old baby was the victim of another attack when shrapnel tore through the roof of his house.[5] Karim miraculously survived both attacks, but lost his left eye and fractured his skull.[6] Karim’s injury sparked a hashtag social media campaign that has gone viral on Facebook and Twitter.[7] People around the world are posting selfies of themselves covering one eye.[8] The photos have been tagged with #SolidarityWithKarim and #StandWithKarim.[9] The #SolidarityWithKarim campaign has attracted supporters in the Middle East and across the globe.[10] Supporters of the campaign include private citizens, public figures and aid workers who are outraged that children have been the victims of attacks.[11]

Karim’s injury could have been avoided. This infant will not remember the attack that occurred just days after he came into the world but he will forever suffer the consequences of the attack that took away his eye and claimed the life of his mother.[12] A medical report following the first attack showed Karim, who was only 40 days old at the time, suffered from loss of skull bone and severe tissue tearing that affected the eye socket, which will likely leave a permanent scare.[13] The specialized care that is needed to treat Karim is not available in eastern Ghouta.[14]

Karim is not the only child in desperate need of help. In December 2017, the United Nations children's agency said that 137 children require immediate evacuation.[15] "Infants - some of them just one or two months old - will die if evacuation permits are not granted immediately," United Nations humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council. Sixteen people have died waiting for permission to leave among the deceased was a 45-day-old infant, and a nine-year old girl.[16] Help for many of the injured is just minutes away yet out of reach.[17] Most victims could easily be treated in hospitals just minutes away, but the regime has refused to allow the United Nations to transfer nearly 500 people requiring medical evacuation to hospitals just miles away.[18] "All that is needed is the green light from the Syrian authorities for these people to go to hospitals just a few miles outside of eastern Ghouta," Lowcock added.[19]

The Solidarity with Karim campaign is the most recent effort to call attention to the Syrian regime siege.[20] The Syrian regime siege dates back to 2012, when residents rose up against Bashar Assad during the country's Arab Spring uprising.[21] The conditions in eastern Ghouta have rapidly deteriorated recently as the regime has tightened the siege, causing severe shortages of food, medicine and fuel.[22] Citizens of Syria are in desperate need of these resources, especially during the winter months.[23] The International Committee of the Red Cross said the area is now grappling with "a frightening food shortage and a huge increase in food prices."[24] Withholding food is being used as a weapon of war.[25] The tactic of "starve or surrender"—in which rebel territories are starved into submission –has caused several holdout rebel areas to eventually return to regime control.[26] It causes what little food there is to become unaffordable.[27] The United Nations “recorded bread prices recently as being 85 times higher in Eastern Ghouta than in central Damascus, less than 10 miles away. A cylinder of cooking gas, in the punishing winter, costs $300 in Eastern Ghouta compared to $44 in the capital,” according to the United Nations.[28]

The United Nations Children’s Fund recently completed a survey in East Ghouta and found alarming rates of acute malnutrition among children.[29] More than 1,100 children are suffering from acute malnutrition including the most dangerous form, known as "severe acute malnutrition."[30] Even infants only a few days old are starving to death because their mothers do not have access to quality food, which leaves them unable to breastfeed their children.[31]

The United Nations estimates roughly one in eight children in the area is malnourished, and that the United Nations and other aid groups can only reach around 7 percent of those who are besieged.[32] The United Nations estimates it will need $3.2 billion to help the 13.5 million people.[33] This number includes 6 million children, who will require some form of humanitarian assistance in Syria.[34] In Syria, approximately 70% of the population does not have access to adequate drinking water, one in three people are malnourished and unable to meet their basic food needs, and more than 2 million children are out of school, and four out of five people live in poverty.[35] Hunger and physical injuries are not the only dangers children in Syria are facing.[36] Dr. Amani Balour, a pediatrician in Ghouta, said:

Malnutrition is the biggest issue, but children are also suffering from communicable disease. We see many respiratory and intestinal problems ... due to lack of hygiene and unclean air from cooking smoke because there are no stoves available. Also much of the water is unclean because of the siege. We also see children with signs of mental illness, but we cannot offer them anything.[37]

 

Karim is one of hundreds of cases in eastern Ghouta. “If shelling against civilians doesn't stop, there are going to be a hundred or a thousand like Karim,” said Moayed al-Halafi, a member of the Syrian Civil Defense, volunteer first-responders known as White Helmets.[38] Karim’s father is unemployed and struggling to care of Karim while raising his other children.[39] Doctors in Ghouta are taking care of Karim, but he needs specialists in neurology, ophthalmology.[40] Karim also requires cosmetic surgery.[41]

 

 

[1] Syrian boy with no eye inspires solidarity for besieged civilians, USA Today (Dec. 21, 2017, 1:35 PM), https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2017/12/21/syrian-boy-no-eye-inspires-solidarity-besieged-civilians/973507001/.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] World shows solidarity with Syrian baby who lost an eye to Assad's bombardment, Daily Sabah (Dec. 20, 2017), https://www.dailysabah.com/syrian-crisis/2017/12/20/world-shows-solidarity-with-syrian-baby-who-lost-an-eye-to-assads-bombardment.

[6] Id.

[7] Mohammed Tawfeeq & Joe Sterling, This Syrian baby lost his eye to war. Now people are covering their eyes in solidarity, CNN (Dec. 24, 2017, 5:30 PM), http://www.cnn.com/2017/12/23/middleeast/syria-karim-viral-hashtag/index.html.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] World shows solidarity with Syrian baby who lost an eye to Assad's bombardment, supra note 5.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Nick Paton Walsh and Salma Abdelaziz, Child malnutrition soars in besieged Damascus enclave, CNN (Dec. 23, 2017, 10:41 PM), http://www.cnn.com/2017/12/21/middleeast/syria-eastern-ghouta-intl/index.html.

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

[29] Scott Simon, UNICEF Says Malnutrition In Parts Of Syria Reach Record Levels, NPR (Dec. 2, 2017, 7:43 AM), 

 https://www.npr.org/2017/12/02/567974888/unicef-says-malnutrition-in-parts-of-syria-reach-record-levels

[30] 1,100 children suffering malnutrition in Syria's Ghouta: Unicef, World (Oct. 24, 2017, 12:00 AM),

 http://www.straitstimes.com/world/1100-children-suffering-malnutrition-in-syrias-ghouta-unicef

[31] Id.

[32] World shows solidarity with Syrian baby who lost an eye to Assad's bombardment, supra note 5.

[33] Syria: The story of the conflict, BBC News (Mar. 11, 2016), http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-26116868.

[34] Id.

[35] Id.

[36] Child malnutrition soars in besieged Damascus enclave, supra note 25.

[37] Id.

[38] World shows solidarity with Syrian baby who lost an eye to Assad's bombardment, supra note 5.

[39] Id.

[40] Id.

[41] Id.