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Syrian peace talks intensify longing for home among refugees

By Coco McCabe
Oxfam campaigners at a peace conference in Switzerland install gravestones to illustrate the need to bring an end to the violence that has killed more than 100,000 and displaced millions in Syria. Photo: Maria Christina Travaglio/Les Studios Casagrande.

For countless Syrians forced from their homes by almost three years of conflict in their country, the peace talks now underway in Switzerland could mark the first step on the long road to resolution of this terrible crisis.

The fighting has killed more than 100,000 people and displaced 6.5 million others inside Syria. More than 2.4 million people have fled to neighboring countries.

“A lasting political solution will take time to agree, but all parties must prioritize an immediate halt to the violence and agree (on) concrete steps to make sure people have access to the aid they desperately need,” said Shaheen Chughtai, Oxfam’s humanitarian policy advisor in Geneva. “A genuine commitment to stop the killing is what is needed from all.”

In the days before the talks began, Syrian refugees spoke to Oxfam about their hopes for the outcome. Bundled tight in a winter coat with the wind flapping open the door of the tent in front of which he stood, Abu Hussein talked of his hunger for home.

“All we want is to go back to our country and for peace to prevail,” said Hussein, who is the father of six children and was a shepherd in rural Damascus. “We want the conflict to be resolved and for the crisis in Syria to come to an end. We want to go back to our villages—these are our hopes.”

Um Adnan, a 74-year-old grandmother, who has four children now missing inside Syria, voiced a poignant longing for her old way of life. “I wish we could go back to our country just to enjoy simple walks there,” she said. “We want to see the trees we left behind and the homes we once built.”