Oscar Assadullah Mukhtar Bergamin has been helping refugees facing starvation in different camps in northern Syria since July 2013, when he founded his association Ash-Sham Care in Zurich.
For the past few months, Syrians in besieged areas have been dying of hunger, thirst, sickness and more recently of cold and not only because of the daily fighting on both sides. They made bread out of lentils when there was no more flour and when the lentils ran out, they ate cats, dogs and donkeys. Children are even eating leaves and cardboard.
Despite the dangers and risks, Bergamin continues to commute between Zurich and Gaziantep in Turkey where he buys aid and joins forces with other local associations to carry foods and blankets to different refugees camps. He cannot name the camps for security reasons. Speaking on the phone on December 17, 2013, while heading to northern Syria, he explained to swissinfo.ch that Ash-Sham Care was one of the very few European humanitarian associations working directly in northern Syria but with logistical support in Turkey. He sent pictures he had taken in different camps during the exceptionally tough winter there and descriptions of what he's doing and experiencing inside and outside the camps.
Bergamin is a Swiss citizen, born in 1964 in the Netherlands. After studying Media and Communication, he worked from 1999 to 2009 as an editor and journalist. His fascination with Islamic history, art and culture led to longer stays in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. He started studying Islamic jurisprudence and the Hadith and in 2005 converted to Islam. By the end of 2009, he joined the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland (CCIS) led by the controversial figure Nicolas Blancho. But two years later, he decided to leave the group because of divergences.
After his Syrian furniture company, (Pierre Loti Design) set up in Damascus in 2010, was destroyed, Bergamin founded the NGO, Ash-Sham Care, with humanitarian projects in Lebanon, Syria and Turkey. Bergamin worked for two years as a special officer for the Swiss Army in Kosovo and spent one year as an international civilian consultant in the Psychological Operations Support Element in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul in Afghanistan.
(Pictures: Ash-Sham Care; Quotes: Oscar A.M. Bergamin; Production: Islah Bakhat, Christoph Balsiger, swissinfo.ch)