BYU graduate aids Syrian refugees and detainees

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Adam Paul Steed with Syrian children at a refugee camp in Greece. (Adam Paul Steed)
Adam Paul Steed with Syrian children at a refugee camp in Greece. (Adam Paul Steed)

Hands reach out to comfort the boy as he sobs over the body.

“Father, please don’t leave me alone! Father, please stay alive! Oh God, give me patience! Please, Dad, don’t leave me!” He cradles his father’s limp head in his arms as blood runs down the man’s face.

 

Syrian boy and father. Slightly graphic content, as described above.

Adam Paul Steed pauses the video of the boy and his father and turns with a somber look.

“I very unexpectedly ended up where I am today,” he says quietly.

Steed, a BYU graduate, Provo resident and father of two, began his journey when his sister, Crystallyn Steed Brown, called him up and told him to come to Greece because the refugees there would need help.

“I couldn’t go because of my two beautiful children — I’m a single parent — but when I found out that she got tear gassed pulling pregnant women and babies out of the situation, I thought, ‘If I care about family values, I’m going to go help my sister,’” Steed said.

Steed left for Greece for what he thought would be just a few weeks, but realized when he got there that he would be needed for much longer.

Adam Steed with refugee family in Greece. (Paul Steed)

“It just took steps. I first thought I’d be passing out bananas and then I had to be a doctor,” Steed said. “When I first started I did sea rescue, and my first sea rescue I broke the law and stole a boat to save people that were drowning.”

It was there in Greece that Steed met many people, including a Syrian attorney and former political detainee who has asked that he be recognized by his pseudonym, Adam Lufti. Though Lufti was able to migrate to Greece, his family still faces danger in Syria and publication of his name may contribute to that threat.

Lufti would soon became Steed’s eyes and ears and provide him with information that would change lives.

Since coming back to Provo, Steed has been able to work with Lufti and several other Syrian attorneys over the past few months in order to receive videos from Syrian detainees who have managed to smuggle clandestine cell phones into the prisons where they are being held. Steed uses these videos to inform the media of prison conditions and torture that the media does not have access to.

“In my phone, I have multiple videos from groups of people who are about to be killed that nobody in the world has,” Steed said. “I send them to whatever media, whether it be to The New York Times, The Guardian or The Independent.”

The majority of these videos have come from the central prison in Hama, Syria, where political detainees are often held and tortured by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

In May of this year, Steed received videos of a revolt the detainees there staged. The videos also show regime forces outside the prison waiting for the detainees with snipers and tear gas.

“There were 850 political prisoners and five of their men were being sent away to be executed and they couldn’t take it; they were good men, so they took over the prison,” Steed said. “The prisoners had four or five phones and they were giving the information straight to an attorney that was trying to help them.”

Lufti, who is now currently living in Germany after being released from prison, contacted the attorney who had taken it upon himself to help the detainees. Lufti had been imprisoned and tortured several months prior for defending other political prisoners

After explaining to the attorney that Steed wanted to help by getting the prisoners’ story out to the mainstream media, Steed’s phone began to fill with videos of the revolt sent from the detainees within the prison. Steed immediately went looking for a news organization that would publish the videos and the story of the prisoners.

“I honestly had no connections to large news organizations, but suddenly my phone started getting filled with original videos from inside the prison almost while it was happening, where people are getting tear gassed or shot,” Steed said. “I spent two days sending emails to people, trying to get the story out.”

Steed believed that getting the story out would put pressure on Assad’s regime and hoped that it could change the detainees’ plight.

“In Syria, we really follow the professional news, like The New York Times or The Guardian because they have a knowledge about the war,” Lufti said.

After several days of contacting various news organizations, the online British newspaper The Independent released an article about the revolt on May 5, closely followed by articles in the BBC News and The New York Times on May 9 and May 30, respectively.

Soon after the articles were released, Assad’s regime called off the snipers and guards around the prison and ordered that the power and water supplies be restored. They then ordered the release of several of the prisoners there.

“It was literally hours before Assad was coming in to do his attack that we released the articles, and then he quit and called it off,” Steed said. “The world news was inside; he wasn’t going to go murder these people with that kind of coverage.”

Steed has since continued to use the videos he receives to shed light on what is happening in Syria, especially for those who may not otherwise have a voice. He continues to work with The New York Times, which has now published several articles based on videos and photos he has received from connections throughout Syria, Turkey and Greece.

“When my uncle stayed in the prison for nine months, we didn’t know if he was alive or not,” said a niece of one of the Hama detainees who has asked that her name remain anonymous, in an email to Steed. “Some days they told us he is dead! You cannot imagine what happens in prisons. Thank God my uncle is in Turkey now. Thank you; if I spend my life thanking you and all people who helped in this issue, it won’t be enough.”

Steed admitted reading the email brought tears to his eyes.

Syrian children in refugee camp in Greece. (Paul Steed)

“I never thought I’d be doing any of the things I am doing today. I had no idea the depth of things I would get involved in just because I was there,” Steed said.

Steed hopes that through his work, people will come to realize that the majority of the Syrian people, and many of those who have been imprisoned as “political detainees”, are educated and moderate people just searching for normalcy.

“You feel like you’ve lost your humanity and you have to start over,” Lufti said, describing his experience and torture within the prison. “I was an attorney who simply wanted to protect others from torture, but I ended up being imprisoned for that and losing everything.”

Steed and Lufti hope to begin a small organization called Refugee Voice that will allow others to connect personally with Syrian citizens and refugees and help through micro aid and microloans.

“If a group of BYU students come to me, I will put them directly in contact with a group of refugees with specific needs, and I’ll have them connected on Facebook so they can see how they are directly helping these people,” Steed said.

Those wishing to get involved can contact Adam Paul Steed on Facebook or contribute directly to Steed’s YouCaring crowdfunding campaign. The campaign focuses on raising money for the most vulnerable Syrian refugee families.

 

Interview with Adam Paul Steed. (Laekynn Davis, Claire Anderson and Liesl Nielsen)

 

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