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Should oppressed Shia flee or stay?

Written By | Jul 27, 2016

WASHINGTON, July 27, 2016 – Shia minorities facing oppression from anti-Shia governments are often faced with the agonizing choice of fleeing to safety or staying to protect their culture.

Shia are minority Muslims in all countries around the world with the exceptions of Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan, Lebanon and Bahrain. Even in many countries where Shia are the majority, they are repressed by minority Sunni governments intent on preserving their own power.

Ironically, the Arab Spring intensified the persecution of Shia. the instability and insecurity of the revolutions around the Middle East created opportunities for both pro and anti-Shia extremists, resulting in further crackdowns on Shia groups.

This same disarray and unrest provided the opportunity for many Shia to migrate or apply for asylum outside their home countries. This created a difficult decision for Shia of whether to escape the repression or remain in their home countries. While outsiders may see escape as the only choice, many Shia have elected to remain due to religious and national responsibility and the desire to protect their heritage and faith in their own country. 

In Syria, for example, Shia are under attack from ISIS and other extremist groups. Hundreds of Syrian Shia have been killed, and those who remain have lost access to the basic necessities of life. Densely populated Shia cities such as Noble and al-Zahra have been under siege to the point of complete food and water exhaustion. Residents of these cities are dying of starvation and malnutrition. Children in the area are under siege, with large , while large numbers kidnapped and others killed. A bomb explosion in close proximity to a Shia school the in neighborhood of Aktameh, Homs resulted in  the death of elementary aged children.  

Many Shia in Syria have left the country to save their own lives and the lives of their families. They also escaped Syria to advocate for their fellow Syrian Shia and to speak for those inside the country who have no voice. These advocates are shouting to international committees and countries, insisting that the world stand up and protect powerless Shia facing annihilation inside the country.


Other Syrian Shia have stayed behind, arguing that they can best help other Shia by acting as journalists and reporters to document the ongoing crisis inside Syria. These remaining Shia provide information on the demolition of historic sites and atrocities against Shia, providing powerful information to the outside world. Given constraints on outside journalists by both the government of Bashar al-Assad and ISIS, this reporting is critical to understanding the true situation inside the country. These people are sacrificing their lives every day in order to ensure that the truth emerges from the war-torn country.

Syria is only one nation in which Shia are torn between staying in a country where they are constantly oppressed or leaving their homeland. Pakistani, Afghani, Malaysian,  and Indonesian Shia face the same hard choices. Almost all Shia live under some form of oppression from state or non-state agents.  

The choice is agonizing, and tears apart families and communities. Either decision requires courage and strength, and both share the same goal of educating the world on the plight – and the rights – of the Shia. 


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Hawraa Zakery

As a human rights activist, Hawraa Zakery is a freelance writer on contemporary and international issues. In addition to researching human rights issues at Shia Rights Watch, Hawraa is a mental health therapist at The Key Center, and work place well-being coach at Mind Your Work. She is a contributor to,, ireport.cnn and