Syrian Refugees Tell Their Stories

marie claire travelled to Jordan to meet the refugees flooding over the border – desperate to reach safety.
Syrian Refugees Tell Their Stories

"I fled Syria seven months pregnant"

 

Fatima Khalil al-Hemet, 32, spent the first months of her pregnancy in hiding in the Syrian city of Deraa with her daughters, Toka'a, six, and Mariam, three. 

 

"When the shelling started, I was alone with my two daughters, as my husband had gone to Jordan to earn money. During the day, my daughters and I would hide at home. We never knew when we would be bombed because it happened randomly. There were snipers in our street, too, so whenever I went out for supplies I bought at least two days' worth of food.

 

In Syria, life was expensive, food cost a lot. After my husband left, Toka'a would call out for her dad. She would ask me 'How could Dad leave us here?'" 

 

"Finally I was able to find a neighbour who helped us leave. The journey took almost a week. When we got to the Jordanian border - in the middle of a vast desert - we waited for two nights before the authorities let us cross. I slept on the ground in the sand.

 

"Now, I am being reunited with my husband for the first time in months. I hope that we will have a chance to build a new life here."

 

"I've been a refugee for a year. Today is my engagement party"


Noha Abu Salam, who says she is 18 but looks younger, lives in Zaatari. She is about to meet a man her parents have agreed she will marry. For Noha, the arranged marriage presents a way out of the camp. 

 

"I arrived in the Zaatari camp more than a year ago. I came with my uncle and my mother after we fled from [the Syrian capital] Damascus. At first I didn't like living in Zaatari. But now it is OK because all my brothers and sisters are here. 

"Today is my engagement party. I woke up at six this morning to start the preparations. I am about to meet my husband for the first time. I'm nervous and excited. He is the cousin of my sister's fiancé and used to be in the Syrian army before defecting to the opposition. Now, he lives in the city of Zarqa in Jordan, where he works as a carpenter. 

"I've hired a wedding dress and these shoes for $75 for my wedding day from a bridal shop in the camp. After the wedding, I will live at his house. I have been imagining my future husband and I imagine that I like everything about him. But we have never met so there is no love. I just hope that he is a good man."

 

"When we fled our village, bodies laid in the streets"


Rawa'a, nine, fled a massacre inher village. She escaped with her mother and a neighbour, Wael. 

 

Wael: "The Syrian army entered our village and started burning and destroying the houses of anyone who could have been working with the Free Syrian Army. They shot people in their homes and on the street. Dozens of people were killed. No-one was buried properly. We escaped to the nearby town and returned home to find bodies strewn on the streets. 

"The soldiers put us all in a school hall and made us sing in support of President Bashar al-Assad. Guns were pointed at us and we knew we had to, even though he had destroyed our homes and our lives. We arrived in Jordan last night. It took us days to get here." 

Ra'wa: "These are not my favourite shoes. The army stole [my favourite pair]. They took everything from my house. I used to play all day. The boys played outside and I played with them, too. We used to run and see who could jump up onto the high wall at the side of the street. In school, I liked all my subjects. 

"The journey here was awful. I was scared. I had to stand up in the back of a truck and, as it went over the sand dunes, I felt like I was going to fall."

 

"I didn't want to leave my home"

 

Rama'a, a 29-year old philosophy teacher, fled Deraa, in southern Syria, with her children. 

 

"It took us six days to reach the Jordanian border. We travelled through the desert in a truck crammed with more than 100 people. At night, it was freezing - we had to lie on the ground. The only route available is called 'the road of death'. You see the graves of the people who died on the way as you travel by. 

"For me, my home was the most beautiful place. We didn't want to leave it for the world. I cry when I think about it. But we had no choice. Earlier this year my children's school was raided by soldiers. They'd heard that some of the children had been chanting anti-regime slogans, and they forced their way in. They pointed their guns and made the children kneel. One 14-year-old boy was shot in the head. 

"I used to be a philosophy teacher. We had a good life. When we left, we carried what we could. I arrived here just in these clothes and these shoes. These SpongeBob SquarePants shoes are my daughter's favourite."

 

For me, my home was the most beautiful place. We didn't want to leave it for the world. I cry when I think about it. But we had no choice.

Rama'a Syrian philosophy teacher

"I carried my baby in my arms across Syria"

 

Tara, 20, has a four-month-old baby and a five-year-old boy and travelled with her sister and their husbands from the eastern province of Hassakeh. 

 

"We left Syria one month ago and it took 15 days to get here. We fled Hassakeh out of fear. Our children couldn't walk in the street or go to school because they were kidnapping kids for ransom.

 

"The day we decided to leave, there were planes above us dropping bombs. We packed just a few possessions in a hurry. We packed these dresses because they are special to us. They are our favourite clothes. In Hassakeh, we would wear them to parties and weddings.

 

"First, my sister, myself and my husband climbed onto one motorbike, speeding through the dark streets for one hour. Then we got on the back of a truck with 10 other people. I had to carry my four-month-old baby in my arms. We drove like this all the way to Damascus. It took 12 hours. We crossed rebel checkpoints and government checkpoints on the way, and at every one I held my breath in fear."

 

"Rebels burnt our house down"

 

Israr, 20, was a local government employee from Damascus who fledthe city for Jordan with her family. She was too afraid to give her surname - fearing that extremist elements of the opposition back in Syria would harm her family if she spoke out. 

 

"I worked for the local government, so my family didn't participate in the anti-government protests. As a consequence, our home was looted and later burnt down. It was the only home in the street [the rebels] attacked. There was nothing left. All my possessions were burnt, the walls were black. 

 

"After that we fled the neighbourhood at dawn. We slept wherever we could, and friends and strangers hosted us. At first my father had a car, but when we ran out of money he had to sell it. We only took the clothes we fled in. I decided to wear my best pair of shoes - I only bought this pair two months ago. Sometimes I would take them off and walk barefoot because I didn't want to ruin them. We walked for miles in the desert to reach Jordan. 

 

"If I say something more about this or against al-Qaeda, who now control our area, they will kidnap a relative of mine in Syria [in revenge]. I am so afraid."

 

"I won't leave Syria"

 

Um Yousef (a pseudonym that means "mother of Yousef") is 65. The war has scattered her nine adult children across the Middle East, with some going to Jordan and Turkey and others to Saudi Arabia. But Um Yousef and her elderly husband refuse to leave Syria. 

 

"I have just been smuggled from Syria to Jordan so that I can visit my daughter, who is living here now. She moved here to [the city] Irbid, with her husband seven months ago. In a few days, I will go back.

 

"I had to give up most of my savings to smugglers. They put me in a truckfor 19 hours and we crossed the redmud desert. When we reached the border, the Jordanian army made us wait before crossing. I was soaking wet because the sky opened on us. There was a storm with fierce rain and lightning and we had no shelter. The desert turned to mud and came up to my ankles. 

 

"In Deraa, my village in Syria, there are warplanes, rocket fire, tanks and snipers. We are waiting for our deaths, but it is better than living as a refugee."

 

How you can help:

 

More than two million Syrian refugees have now fled into neighbouring countries to seek safety, and thousands more are pouring across borders each day. This is one of the largest refugee exoduses in recent history. The UN Refugee Agency is on the ground providing shelter, medical care and emergency relief items, from blankets to clothing and food. To donate, visit www.unrefugees.org.au/syria or phone 1300 361 288.