Ryerson student's morning routine: Checking whether her family in Idlib are still alive

Syrian civilians in Idlib are preparing for the worst as Russian and pro-regime forces threaten an all-out bombing campaign to retake the region. Alaa Alakel, who lives in Canada but has family in the Syrian province, can only watch and wait in agony.

Ryerson student says she feels guilty for being safe while her family faces uncertainty in Idlib

Alaa Alakel is from Kafr Nabl, in Idlib province, about an hour south of Idlib city. She is in Canada studying biomedical science at Ryerson University. (Submitted by Alaa Alakel )

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When Alaa Alakel wakes up in the morning, her first thought is whether her family in Syria have been killed in an airstrike.

"Imagine your routine everyday — to wake up in the morning, just to take your phone and to check if your family is still alive," she told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Alakel came to Toronto a year and a half ago to study biomedical science at Ryerson University. Most of her family still lives in Kafr Nabl, about an hour south of Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in Syria's northwest. 

The 25-year-old says she feels guilty every day for the "nice life" she has in Canada, while her family is "waiting to die." 

Russian and Syrian warplanes began bombing Idlib last week, as Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad tries to retake the region and end the civil war. The U.S. said Friday that it has proof the regime is preparing to use chemical weapons.

Idlib is the last big pocket of rebel strength in Syria, and taking it back would help Bashar al-Assad reassert total control over the country. 2:30

While the millions living in Idlib province are preparing for an all-out assault, Alakel can only watch and wait for what may come. 

When she was still in Syria, she tried to protect her young nieces from that fear. At the sound of aircraft overhead, she would put on loud music to distract them and encourage them to sing and dance — a way to drown out the sound of falling bombs.

"If they die, they die happy," she would tell her sister.

At the weekend, a bomb exploded so close to her sister's home that the house shook, Alakel said.

They stay in touch frequently through Whatsapp and Facebook.

Alakel's nieces, Rand and Jude, who are still in Idlib, Syria. (Submitted by Alaa Alakel )

"Sometimes they ignore it. They don't want me to be worried," Alakel  said, adding that when she asks if they plan to leave, they respond: "'Where are we going to go? The border with Turkey is closed.'"

On Friday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said his country could no longer afford to take in any more Syrian refugees. The country has taken in 3.5 million over the course of the seven-year civil war.

Alakel wants the international community to stop talking and take action to help the civilians trapped in Idlib province.

If not, innocent people, including her family "are just going to die."

"There is nowhere [to go], no way to save them," she said.

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this page.

Written by Padraig Moran with files from The Associated Press. Produced by Julie Crysler, Samira Mohyeddin and Allie Jaynes.


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