2018 Freedom Awardee:
Syrian Refugee from Aleppo
Introduced by: Nick Waters, Bellingcat Investigation Team and Finalist for European Press Prize
Location: Schlüterhof, Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin, Germany
Time: 7:30 p.m. Local
Date: Saturday, June 23, 2018
(A video presentation is shown.)
ANNOUNCER: Please welcome Bellingcat Analyst and 2018 European Press Prize Finalist Nick Waters.
NICK WATERS: Good evening ladies and gentlemen; Secretary Albright as well. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the story of Bana and Fatemah Alabed who used social media to document their experience of living through the siege of east Aleppo. The effort by Fatemah and Bana to use social media to show the world what was happening from the perspective of their family humanized the unimaginably vast suffering of civilians within Syria. When we asked to examine the social media presence of Bana, we were initially skeptical, since there have been instances where this kind of thing has been faked before.
However, under the scrutiny, every single inconsistency fell apart. So the idea that there was no electricity, for example, was quite easily solved by the images and videos of solar panels and car batteries on the roof of the flat where they lived. The idea that there was no mobile signal, cellphone signal, was quite easily dismissed by the Syrian regime itself, who sent threatening text messages to the population of east Aleppo. And finally, using the images and the videos that Bana and Fatemah had posted themselves, we could geolocate their location to the neighborhood in east Aleppo, to the exact flat and floor in which they lived.
However, this posed a bit of an ethical conflict, because this kind of level of information was dangerous. If we’d have posted it without assessing what we were doing, we could have put the Alabed family in danger. So we held back and we waited. And we waited until finally we found out that the Alabed family had been – or their flat had been bombed, sending – or meaning that they had to escape into east Aleppo as the rebel-held pocket collapsed. At this point, we decided to publish our findings in the hope of showing that Bana and Fatemah were real. And they were a real family in very real danger. And it was an incredible relief to see them, several days later, safe outside of the east Aleppo pocket.
Since then, Bana has written a book and achieved absolutely extraordinary things as a very young girl. And it gives me great pleasure to award Bana, on behalf of the Atlantic Council, the Freedom Award. Thank you. (Applause.)
(The Freedom Award is presented.)
BANA ALABED: Ladies and gentlemen, it’s my honor to be here with all of you today in the evening.
I want to thank all of you for coming to here. I want to thank the Atlantic Council for giving me this award. I’m so happy for standing up in front of you all. I came to here to share my story, just 16 months ago.
Me and my family were living in Aleppo under siege and bombing. I was afraid to die. But my biggest fear that one of my brothers will die. I am happy we are all alive today. One day without bombing in Syria – Aleppo – would make me the happiest person in the world because I hate war. It destroyed all I had. It killed my friends.
We lived under siege and bombing. I want to share my story so the world know how the life. I asked my mom to help me share our story on Twitter so the world can know what is happening there and to help us to stop the war. I have many friends on Twitter. I love them. They give me support. They always text me.
My friend, J. K. Rowling, she is kind to us. (Laughter.) She gave to me Harry Potter books. We shared our story as the war go on. It was dangerous. There was two days of big bombing and nonstopping. The third day, a bomb came and hit our lovely home. We went down and immediately go out. We run away from our lovely home.
Before we get out of Aleppo, me and my family were going from a place to another to search for some food and some water. Everyone was running. It was mad. I could see my brothers sad. They were tired. They just want peace. Children of Syria are tired of war. Getting out of Aleppo was my happiest day. There was no bombing, no more war planes. I was, like, dreaming. I miss the days without bombing. I’m lucky I am alive.
But I must say to all the leaders around the world they are not helping enough to stop the war and to help the children. Many children are dying. There will be many refugees. If you want for your children and the world to have a better future, the leaders of the world must stand together to stop the war and to help children to have education
I believe the people can help to stop the war. I hope that young people can help to make the world better again. Thank you all for your attention. (Applause.) Thank you. (Applause.)
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, please enjoy your dinner. The second half of the program will begin shortly. We will now switch to the Germany-Sweden World Cup game. (Laughter.)