opinion

Why aren't we flying the Syrian flag on top of the Harbour Bridge?

On April 4 2017, nearly 14000 kilometres away, a crime against humanity took place.

A suspected chemical attack carried out by Syrian Government jets killed more than 70 people, including a number of children.

Yet it’s not trending on Facebook, and many news outlets aren’t even featuring the story on their homepage.

The footage is said to be far too graphic to show. Babies are convulsing. The hospitals designed to help the desperate have been bombed. Innocent people are covered head to toe in blood.

But today, there is no Syrian flag waving on top of our Harbour Bridge.

Image via Getty.

In fact, despite the death toll in Syria nearing half a million people, we have never erected the Syrian flag on our most iconic cultural landmark. Not once.

In November 2015, I worked at a school in Western Sydney. I went to work the day following the Paris terror attacks, and a Syrian girl sat down at my desk.

"Did you hear about Paris?" she asked, fear and compassion in her eyes.

"Yeah," I replied. "It's just so tragic."

"They've put the flag on the Harbour Bridge," she told me. "And they lit up the Opera House."

She paused for a moment and said, "Why haven't they ever put my flag on the Harbour Bridge?"

Mike Baird. Image via Facebook.
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Isn't it interesting that in times of world crisis, it is often children who ask the best questions?

This young girl had fled Syria with her family two years prior. She once told me that since moving to Sydney, she'd struggled to sleep in such silence because she'd become accustomed to drifting off to the sound of dropping bombs.

Her school no longer existed. In class sometimes she would see terrible, unimaginable things vividly, as though they were right in front of her.

A boy standing in the corridor poked his head in the door and said, "They'd never put my flag on the Harbour Bridge either."

He was Sudanese.

The CEO and Founder of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Kon Karapanagiotidis is an Australian to be proud of. Listen to our interview on Fighting For Fair. Post continues below.


The War in Darfur has been raging since 2003, and death toll estimates range between 100,000 and 300,000.

I couldn't even tell you the colours of the Sudanese flag.

And I didn't have an answer for either of them; why their new home cared about some lives far more than others.

Following the Westminster terror attack two weeks ago, the Eiffel Tower turned its lights off as a mark of respect. Tel Aviv City Hall lit up in the colours of the Union Jack, as did the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

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Malcolm Turnbull tweeted, "Australia stands in resolute solidarity with the people of Britain in war against terrorism. Our heartfelt sympathies are with the victims," aptly representing what the Australian people were feeling.

Today, there will be no red, black, white and green adorning world landmarks. Nowhere will turn off their lights in a mark of respect. There will likely be no hashtag.

Turnbull retweeted Julie Bishop, reiterating, "Australian Government condemns suspected chemical weapons attack against civilians," a markedly different message to the one two weeks prior.

It seemed to be missing the "heartfelt sympathies".

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At this moment, there are more than five million Syrian children who are either refugees or have been displaced within their own country.

They have lost their homes.

Their neighbourhoods have been forever destroyed.

They have lost their pets.

Their families have disappeared, or been murdered right in front of them.

They have been victims of torture, or witnessed people they love be tortured.

They have suffered such severe physical injuries that many are missing limbs or live with devastating disabilities.

There is no longer such a thing as ‘hope’.

“Aleppo is now a synonym for hell,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said.

A new psychological term has been invented in an attempt to adequately describe the suffering of Syrian children.

At this point, Dr M.K. Hamza has explained, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is completely insufficient.

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“Human devastation syndrome,” is the term Dr Hamza has chosen, and it's something completely distinct from anything else we’ve seen in the 21st century.

“They have seen dismantled human beings that used to be their parents, or their siblings. You get out of a family of five or six or 10 or whatever — you get one survivor, two survivors sometimes. A lot of them have physical impairments. Amputations. Severe injuries. And they’ve made it to the refugee camp somehow," Dr Hazma says.

Image via Getty.

“You have millions of children who are devastated and you have to ask, ‘Where is this going to lead?’ One thing is for sure, and it runs counter to the see-no-evil isolationism that, at least rhetorically, is now en vogue: 'It’s going to impact the whole world'.”

It's a war with no end in sight, greedily murdering an entire generation of Syrian children.

Today, I heard that young girl's voice ask, with a sadness that suggested she already knew the answer, "Why haven't they ever put my flag on the Harbour Bridge?"

And I'm asking the exact same question.

Here's what we can do to help:

You can donate to CARE Australia's Syria Appeal who are providing emergency food, hygiene kits, mattresses and blankets to thousands of affected families.

You can donate to World Vision's relief fund.  

You can support organisations like Welcome to Australia and the ASRC.

You can also write to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s office, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and your local MP, letting them know that you want to live in a compassionate nation that welcomes people who are fleeing violence and persecution.

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