When Nada Sidani was growing up in Lebanon, she used to wear beautiful textiles tagged, “Made in Syria.” So it was surreal to see Syrian mothers wrapping babies in plastic when she returned to the region a decade after she left, she said.
Sidani was born in Lebanon and moved to Canada 10 years ago. Here, she became a registered emergency nurse, but with the Syrian refugee crisis worsening in recent years, she felt compelled to do something.
She joined humanitarian missions offering medical aid to refugees and has travelled to Yemen, Turkey, Lebanon, and Syria.
But it was the winter of 2013 when Sidani saw effects of “unspeakable atrocities” of the Syrian war firsthand in refugee camps.
“At the vaccination clinic, the women would wrap their babies in plastic bags because they don’t have the means to keep the baby dry in a tent where the water seeps from the top,” she said in an interview with The Huffington Post Canada.
“How can I describe to you what it means to live 24/7 in temperatures of four to five degrees Celsius — the temperature we use to preserve our meat and cheese in the fridge."
Sidani spoke at a Toronto Westside Refugee Response fundraiser on Tuesday, urging people to help those facing the “misery of displacement” abroad.
Syria’s ongoing civil war has displaced almost half of the country’s population. An estimated 11 million people have been killed or forced from their homes, according to United Nations data.
Since March 2011 when the war broke out, the country’s infrastructure has been steadily destroyed — especially health care. Getting vaccinations into the country has become nearly impossible, and those with chronic illnesses such as diabetes are unlikely to get necessary medication.
A Syrian refugee girl stands at a makeshift camp by Taybeh village in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley. (Photo: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)
The long-term lack of immunization means infectious diseases — measles, tetanus, and polio — are making a comeback.
“You cannot get [vaccinations] to the people because it’s extremely dangerous. You could lose your life,” Sidani explains.
In the refugee camps, families sometimes live for years in cramped quarters under tents meant for temporary residence. Sidani describes the conditions as “utterly inhumane.”
“How can I describe to you in words the smell of urine and feces,” she said. “How can I describe to you what it means to live 24/7 in temperatures of four to five degrees Celsius — the temperature we use to preserve our meat and cheese in the fridge."
But despite all the heartbreak and horror she witnessed during her three months volunteering in Syria, Sidani said she’s optimistic about the federal government’s plan to bring 10,000 refugees to Canada before the end of the year.
It’s a number that matches one she pushed in a petition three months ago before the federal election urging leaders to make refugees resettlement a top issue.
Sidani called the Liberal government’s refugee plan a “beautiful” and “ambitious” undertaking.
“We’re not arguing about numbers. We just want action,” she said.
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