September 2, 2022

A ray of hope for Syria’s disappeared

Photo: Fadwa holding photos of her son and husband at a protest marking the international day of the disappeared.

The day the Syrian regime took my 34-year-old son Maher and my husband Abdulaziz Al Khair at the Damascus airport in 2012 is etched in my heart forever. I was at home waiting for my husband’s return from a peace conference abroad and Maher went to pick him up. When I called to check on them the call didn’t go through. I told myself he could just be out of signal and I kept myself busy, preparing their food, getting everything ready on the table. I kept going out onto the balcony where I’d be able to see them approach the house, but five hours later they had still not arrived and I knew they’d been detained.

It’s been ten years since that day and I still feel exactly the same. I haven’t heard a word from them and I have no idea where they’re being held and whether they’re alive or dead. It’s like a part of my heart, a part of my being is missing. But I don’t let myself think that there is bad news. My mother’s instinct tells me they are alive.

My son and husband are among tens of thousands of Syrian peaceful protesters, human rights defenders, doctors, humanitarians, and ordinary civilians who have been forcibly disappeared since 2011. The majority of them were taken at the hands of the Syrian regime but other armed and extremist groups, such as ISIS, have also used the practice as a weapon of war.

I co-founded Families for Freedom, a movement of Syrian families demanding freedom for all of the country’s detained and disappeared, with hope and with pain. We know our loved ones are being exposed to horrific conditions including torture and deprivation of proper food, drinking water, hygiene, and medical care – but we refuse to give up. We started to feel our power when people like you around the world joined us in support.

In 2021, we joined forces with other Syrian victim and family groups campaigning for answers. Our main demand is the creation of a new international mechanism – an impartial body that has the resources and mandate to urgently coordinate work to find Syria’s forcibly disappeared people. Investigating these atrocities, including identifying human remains, needs to happen urgently.

Friends, I can finally say that after years of campaigning, knocking on politicians’ doors and telling our painful stories to anyone who’d hear us, our efforts are paying off. This week the UN Secretary General published a landmark report backing our demands. This is a direct result of our work, after the UN requested a study in response to our proposal.

Having the UN’s backing is a hugely important step and crucially the Secretary General has stated that the new mechanism must involve and support us families, because we refuse to be on the margins anymore. Now the UN must turn its words into action, and it will prove itself when all our loved ones are found. We know there is still a huge struggle ahead, so please sign and share our petition to help strengthen our movement.

I also invite you to explore ‘Syria Waits’, a photography project that offers families of Syria’s disappeared a space to tell their stories, because we are still here and we are still fighting to be heard.

In hope,


[1] You can find out more about the brave Syrian groups involved in pushing for this new mechanism, and read their Truth and Justice Charter.