Sun | Oct 22, 2017

Syrian refugees see glimmer of hope in Trump's policy shift

Published:Monday | April 10, 2017 | 12:00 AM- AP
This photo, provided by the Syrian Civil Defense group known as the White Helmets, shows Civil Defense workers and Syrian citizens inspecting damaged buildings after airstrikes hit the town of Maarat al-Nuaman in Idlib province last week.

For the millions of Syrian refugees scattered across camps and illegal settlements, the chemical attack on a town in northern Syria and subsequent US strike was a rare moment when the world turned its attention to Syria, before turning away again.

Some cheered the US cruise missiles that hit an air base in central Syria the first US strike against Syrian troops but others insist they are opposed to any US intervention in their country. Few had any hopes that the apparent sudden shift in President Donald Trump's policy would end up helping their situation.

"I saw him (Trump) on TV. He says he sympathises with the kids, but then he shuts them out. What kind of support is that?" asked Hamrin Mohammed, 30, a Syrian refugee from the northern Syrian town of Derik who fled the fighting in Syria and has been living in a camp in northern Iraq for years.

The military strike marked a swift reversal on Syria for Trump, who had repeatedly said the US should stay out of the years-long civil war. But several refugees regarded Trump's policy shift with a certain bitterness, noting that he said he was moved to act by photos of the "beautiful babies" killed in the gas attack after working for months to bar millions of refugee children and their families from entering the United States.

Trump has not spoken on whether his renewed involvement in Syria will also include a changed policy on Syrian refugees. But some refugee agencies in the United States are hoping that change is coming as well.

"I suspect his thinking will evolve on this," said Linda Hartke, president and CEO of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

The Syrian refugees of Kawergosk in northern Iraq have been around for so long that their camp has turned into a small town. Shops of all kinds line its main street and most of the tents have been converted into small, cement-block houses.

Many of the camp's residents welcomed the American cruise-missile attack on Syria, but said that they wished America would go further and intervene to end the country's six-year civil war.

"Trump has to do either this or that. Millions have been displaced, you cannot take this path and at the same time abandon them," said Hussein Bashir Ibrahim, 33, who was displaced from the town of Qamishli in northeastern Syria. He said he was in the camp for so long that he felt "more dead than alive".

"The strike is good, but if he's serious about wanting to help the kids, he should take them in. Otherwise that shows that he has another agenda," said 25-year-old Khalat Kamal Ismail, also from Qamishli.