Syrian refugees flee bloodshed in silence and fear
04/06/2012 09:30 GMT
by Sara Hussein
AMMAN, April 6, 2012 (AFP) - In the darkness, it was impossible for Umm Eddine to see her two eldest children as they trekked from Syria to Jordan. She wanted to call out, but knew any sound could attract army sniper fire.
When she set out into the cold night with her four offspring and several other families, the men smuggling them warned they must remain silent.
"Why?" she asked. It seemed unnecessary in the dark, lonely fields by the border.
"The Syrian army is posted up there. If they hear a sound, they'll simply open fire on us," one man said pointing to the surrounding hills. "You'll all be killed."
Frightened, Umm Eddine, 32, gathered her children -- aged seven, six, four and three -- and covered her mouth with her hand to make it clear: total silence.
At one point she realised her two eldest were no longer nearby and began to panic. How would she find them, unable to call out or see in the dark?
Retracing her steps, she stumbled upon the youngsters standing in terrified silence, their clothes trapped on the spiny coils of barbed wire. She pried them loose and pushed on up a hill, but they were now separated from the group.
Suddenly two soldiers appeared.
"I thought for sure that they were Syrians," she said. "One of them approached and said 'Let me take the children'. I refused. I thought to myself: if they kill me, they kill me, but I won't let them take my children."
The soldiers pleaded, even used mobile phones to light up the Jordanian insignia on their uniforms, but Umm Eddine didn't believe them.
Finally one asked: "Are you that afraid of the Syrian army?"
The answer was yes.
Her husband had disappeared nearly four months earlier, detained after taking part in the demonstrations shaking the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The protests began in their home city of Daraa, the outskirts of which lie three to four kilometres from the border, in March 2011.
Umm Eddine, who asked not to be identified by her real name, spent months moving from house-to-house with her children, trying to avoid the raids terrorising much of the city.
Then threats of murder and rape started -- calls made from her detained husband's cell phone and others. The last straw was a raid on their home that left almost everything inside in tatters.
"I realised that it would never stop, that they would harass and threaten anyone involved in the protests," she said.
She tried to get passports to cross to Jordan legally but, after weeks of fruitless effort, turned to local fighters who were smuggling residents out.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh has said more than 90,000 Syrians have entered the kingdom, legally and illegally, to escape Assad's crackdown on the uprising that seeks to overthrow his regime.
Amman has quietly welcomed the Syrians but has shied away from calling them refugees. Instead, it uses the term "guests" and leaves their care largely in the hands of private groups such as the Kitab wal Sunna society, the Islamic charity helping Umm Eddine.
-- "I want to erase the past" --
The charity pays the rent on the spartan flat in Amman that is now home for her and several other refugee families.
The group also pays housing for 16-year-old Samer, a tall boy with slicked-back hair and faded jeans. He fled his home town of Moadamiyat al-Shams near Damascus in early March after hearing he was to be drafted by the military.
"I don't want to be part of an army that kills its own people. Only a traitor kills his own people," he said. "I heard they were going to call me up to do it and I decided right away I wouldn't do it, that I'd escape."
With a small group also seeking a way out, he tapped into a network that helped transport them to Daraa then across the Jordanian border.
"We travelled from town to town, moving from one car to another. It was a very difficult process because there were so many checkpoints," he said.
"At one point we were 100 metres (yards) away from Syrian soldiers; we didn't realise how close we had come. God protected us."
Abu Shadi, Samer's flat mate from the same town, entered Jordan last year.
He says he was among the first people from the Damascus area to join the uprising, taking part in early demonstrations and scrawling anti-Assad graffiti on walls.
Now he spends his days tracking developments on his television and Internet.
"Syria doesn't leave my mind even for a minute. I can't live anywhere else. It's where my life is," he said.
But Umm Eddine, traumatised by painful memories, would rather forget her country. She begins to sob when a video from Daraa is played on a cell phone, covering her face with the edge of her black head scarf.
Her little boy, sitting on her knee, watches his mother, then wanders off and returns with a pink tissue for her to dry her eyes.
In Jordan, Umm Eddine met a man imprisoned with her husband who confirmed he was alive but said he was suffering the effects of two untreated bullet wounds.
She prays for him but is trying to build a new life for herself and her children in Amman.
"I want to try to forget everything that happened in Syria. I want to erase the past 32 years of my life."
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