Philippe Dulbecco, a French journalist who worked for an NGO in a number of cities in Syria. He returned to France in May 2017 and has shared his experience online in a forum post in August 2017 in a reply to someone who asked how is the life currently in Syria and whether possible to visit as a tourist, we are re-sharing it here.
I just came back from Syria 3 months ago. I was working there with a French NGO as a communication manager. This allowed me to travel around many parts of the country, from Daraa to Aleppo.
Conditions of life:
They vary from place to place, so I will describe daily facts about some of the cities I have had the opportunity to stay in.
• Take Latakia or Tartus for example:
Even if they indirectly suffered from war (electricity and such), they didn’t experience it first hand as badly as in Aleppo or Homs. They have seaside resorts where you can swim on a white sanded beach cornered by palm trees after breakfast, and spend the rest of your day jet skying. Crazy right? (that doesn’t mean that the Syrian people have enough money to enjoy those luxuries though, of course).
But cities like Homs or Aleppo have heavily suffered from war. Aleppo was just liberated in December 2016. I was based there for a time, and every day I was shocked (in a good way) to see how quickly the city began it’s “usual” life again. Shops that used to be closed due to heavy bombings from the East were opening at an increasing pace. The mine-sweeping process was done swiftly so that a lot of areas were safe to live in again.
Aleppo, “No Mines” – This is written over all the areas that were swept by the Russian military. They are in charge of clearing the cities and they also teach the Syrian Arab Army in mine-sweeping techniques.
Discussing with civilians from the East, and visiting the Eastern parts of the city was heartbreaking. The food supplies sent by humanitarian convoys to the different factions that occupied the East were never distributed to them. Hospitals were for militants only, and civilians were shot at when trying to reach the government-controlled part of the city. There are cases where they even got used as human shields to prevent government forces to fire at those so-called “freedom fighters”.
When the East was liberated late December, food and medicine supplies were discovered in the various headquarters of the East: there were enough stocks for the terrorists to hold a siege during 2 to 3 more years (while the civilians were starving).
If you walk around the Eastern part of the city, you will find many ISIS flags painted other the walls, with graffs inciting on hate toward Iran and the USA).
This alone discredits the claims that East Aleppo was occupied by moderate groups.
We did a toy donation for young kids in Jibreen, a camp for people that used to leave in the Eastern part of Aleppo during the war. 80% are children in this camp (visual estimation, it’s really difficult to have precise numbers in those conditions). The atrocities they suffered are unimaginable, and the first time we did a donation there, a front line was still under 1 mile of the camp. They didn’t even care as they were used to it (at first, we were more intimidating to them than all the firing that took place).
In the western part of Aleppo, things are different. Some parts of the city are standing like nothing happened, but walk 200 meters in one direction and you get yourself in an apocalyptic zone, with not even one building standing.
The most noticeable thing there for a first timer is the electric cables web that was created in order to distribute the power created by electric generators through the city.
In Aleppo as a whole, only one hospital has been destroyed. But the 3 biggest ones in the Eastern part of the city (out of 7 over there) were transformed into headquarters for the different terrorist groups (I know that this may be shocking after seeing all the big headlines telling you that the regime destroyed the last standing hospitals in Aleppo). I actually had the opportunity to conduct interviews with different doctors around Aleppo’s because of an Italian journalist I was hanging with and who did a short video to showcase the truth on that matter.
A problem that also arose was the kids’ education. Due to the scarcity of resources, especially like water, families sent their kids to the nearest water supply during the day (since then, the water barrage covering Aleppo was rebuilt, so the situation got better, but many kids, instead of going to school were sent on “water missions”).
But the most impressive thing, in my opinion, is how quick the reconstruction process began. The NGO I was with was part of this program, and, in total, several hundred houses were planned to be rebuilt (no much later than 1 month after the liberation). Several dozens were already well underway.
While I was working with an architect in Aleppo, a little event changed my way of thinking forever. We were making house measurements all day long and finally arrived at the last building of the day. We went to the roof and met this guy that apologized for not being able to offer us coffee (this is a big deal other there). I was not believing any of this when I realized that the roof I was standing on used to be this guy’s flat and that the building was 5-story high before the conflict. The guy actually apologized for not welcoming us properly even though there nothing left of his house. This sums up the mind of the Syrian people. Even after 7 years of war against extremists raping their daughters and killing their sons, they feel sorry for not being able to offer me, a privileged European, some coffee.
Apart from that, you could spend a pretty “normal” day in Aleppo if you wished (talking from a foreigner point of view of course). I still get the movie theatre’s schedule on my WhatsApp, they get all the latest movies. All the shops in the areas that were not destroyed are now open. But the sad thing to see is how much the 20+ generation is in despair, with no jobs.
• Deir Ez Zor: (I didn’t go there myself, it’s too dangerous. The only people that went there and that are not Syrian are Russian journalists).
This city is worth mentioning as it has been under siege for over 4 years now. ISIS is surrounding 150.000 civilians living in 4.7 square kilometers (there were 250.000 civilians there before the war, some could flee before the siege, but many died).
Conditions there are so dramatic that a friend of mine (a Syrian journalist who covered the conflict since the beginning) got hepatitis after spending only 10 days in the city.
People survive there because of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the Syrian Arab Army helicopters that parachute food over the city on a daily basis.
This is the place where the US “accidentally” bombed the government last year (killing several dozen soldiers in a couple of hours). The US initially blamed the Russian for this bombing. But when they were exposed a few hours later, they said they did a mistake, and that, confused by how many factions were on the ground, they targeted the wrong positions (this would be a very plausible explanation, except that this is the only place in all Syria were only 2 factions are present: the government and ISIS).
The sad thing about it is that ISIS used this opportunity to launch a massive assault, that allowed them to claim a strategic position they couldn’t get for 3+ years (how are the chances right?).
Last but not least, let’s speak about Damascus. As the different extremist factions are losing ground all over the country, they began to use suicide bombing more often. Several of them happened in Damascus while I was in Syria, targeting Shia pilgrimage sites, official buildings or anything.
Moreover, some parts of the city are still occupied by terrorist factions. They take advantage of those positions to send mortars over the capital. The main way government forces and those factions are fighting there is by digging tunnels and putting explosives under buildings at the end of the tunnels. Nobody is fighting on the ground, everything happens under or over it.
But if you were dropped off in the middle of the old city, while having no idea you were in Syria, chances are that you wouldn’t guess right away that you are in the middle of a war-torn country. Everybody is living as in any capital of the world. Sure there are restrictions on electricity and such, but it doesn’t stop daily life. People meet in coffees, go the restaurant (or even go to the Opera for those few who have money)… just like anywhere in the world.
Yes, there are bombs falling, but that doesn’t stop life, and that’s humbling to see.
I tried to show the differences between the main cities so you can get a better grasp of the situation for civilians. Don’t hesitate if you have any questions, or wish to get more info on the daily life other there, there is much to say and this was not a complete description at all!
Regarding tourism, a lot of hidden (or not) gems are still standing (while still being in “safe” areas). Sadly, other spots like the old city of Aleppo (that can’t be described by a Syrian without shedding a small tear) are totally destroyed.
But, even if anything is possible, I doubt you will get a visa just for tourism if you don’t know anyone there that can vouch for you. The risks are too high and if anything happened, this would be bad press for the government. This is sad in my opinion because people would realize what’s what if they were hearing it from the Syrian people by themselves!
There are legal ways that may work, of course, but you wouldn’t ask this question if you had the ability to do it.
One option would be to volunteer with an NGO, but only one of them sends volunteers on the ground (and it’s French). Plus, tourism is not a valid enough reason to apply, I am sorry :)
Hold on to your wish, one day you will be able to go!
PS1: I can’t put any more pictures in my post sorry!
PS2: I met people from all over the country, with extremely diverse backgrounds (economic, religious, social). All the opinions that I share in this post are the result of evidence-based facts, and long hours of coffee drinking around a shisha with those people!
Editor’s note: We have taken the liberty to re-share the post for its importance to shed some light on the suffering of the people in Syria due to the Western ‘regime change’ plan that over 80 countries contributed in, with 2 countries alone Qatar and Saudi spending over $130 Billion on it not to count the others spearheaded by the USA, with more than 350,000 anti-Islamic Wahhabi Sex Jihadists coming from all sides of the planet n a kill, loot, rape and destroy mission. The above post appeared on Quora in August 2017 as an answer by Philippe Dulbecco to a question about the current situation in Syria and whether possible to visit as a tourist.