They may be 16,000km from the atrocities ripping through their homeland, but members of Auckland’s Syrian community are facebooking their country’s bloody push for democracy.
The community has launched a Facebook page where it publishes photos, videos, and stories from Syrian citizens protesting the brutal regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad.
“It’s heartbreaking when you can’t do anything to stop the murder and to stop the torture of the people,” says Syrian expat Osama Abullatif.
“All that we can do is spread their message, and get across their voices.”
Protesters have taken to the streets of Syria’s cities since March this year demanding free and full democratic elections.
Syria’s strict media laws have stamped out most ways of broadcasting and publishing any detail about the army’s crackdown against the protesters.
The Auckland group’s Facebook page, Syrian Solidarity NZ, is one of a number of online conduits where information about the atrocities are uploaded and distributed.
“The only source of media is from the people themselves, using phones, using whatever means they have, to put the stories out there,” Abullatif says.
“They’re turning into journalists, and we are proud to be publishing them.”
The community also bands together every Saturday in Aotea Square to call upon New Zealand’s government to condemn the bloodshed.
Waving the flags of both Syria and New Zealand, the group asks pedestrians to sign a petition imploring Prime Minister John Key to issue a statement denouncing the violence.
Syria Solidarity NZ administrator and protest leader Ali Akil says the demonstrations aim to draw Kiwis’ attention to the brutality of the al-Assad government.
“We want New Zealand to be apart of a global momentum putting pressure on the Syrian regime,” Akil says.
“It starts here, as it starts on the streets of Syria. New Zealand may be small, but if it joins in a chorus, we have a better chance of ending this bloodshed.”
Both Akil and Abullatif have family remaining in Syria. While the two maintain frequent phone contact, they avoid discussing the political unrest.
“The army captures anyone who says anything,” Akil says.
“We don’t want our families tortured.”
And while the images filing into Syrian Solidarity NZ are often graphic, Akil is hopeful they will spur Kiwis to raise their voices and demand an official condemnation.
“We want to see New Zealanders with us. It’s a country we’ve come to get a better life,” he says.