Abdul Rahman can’t sleep. Forced to flee after Syrian troops burned down his home, he lives in a safe house in Turkey with Syrian army defectors in their 20s.
Rahman, 40, left behind his wife and three children and $200,000 of assets, and he is penniless. He still puts on a suit in the morning and makes sure the young men he lives with tidy their bedrooms.
Exile is a way of life for him, and he and tens of thousands of others fear they are to become permanent refugees, never to see their homes again. Neither the sanctions of the United States nor the diplomatic missions of the United Nations have stopped Syrian President Bashar Assad from systematically wiping out his opponents.
Though President Obama has said Assad must go, he remains, and with every passing week, he solidifies his hold over Syria by brute force.
“I thought it would take two or three months maximum,” says Ammar Cheikh Omar, a softly spoken law graduate turned Free Syrian Army fighter who lives in Turkey. “I am surprised that it took such a long time, and it still will take a long time.”
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees says it provides aid to nearly 70,000 Syrian refugees, including 24,000 in Lebanon, 14,000 in Jordan and 25,000 in Turkey. The countries have maintained an open border policy for Syrian refugees.
The refugees and the countries giving them sanctuary are showing signs of strain, agency spokesperson Melissa Fleming says.
The host countries are unable to handle the financial burden, she says.
Staying to fight
Cheikh Omar had recently married and started a tutorial college in the northern city of Aleppo when compulsory military service meant he had to join the Syrian army in December 2010. When the uprising began, he was ordered to shoot into crowds of demonstrators, he says. He fled to Turkey where he joined the Free Syrian Army.
“I am afraid. I am very anxious about my future,” he says. “Sometimes before I sleep at night, I ask myself – why don’t you take your wife and daughter and go to Germany and live a normal life?”
He stays because he wants to fight the Assad regime as his father once did.
He is not sure he can do it without weapons from the international community, which has refused to arm the rebels.
After one year, we haven’t seen one country take the side of the Syrians. It just makes me angry,” he says. “My father and his regime couldn’t make the regime fall. If we don’t make it fall now, then it will never fall, and we will live like animals forever.”
“After one year, we haven’t seen one country take the side of the Syrians. It just makes me angry,” he says. “My father and his regime couldn’t make the regime fall. If we don’t make it fall now, then it will never fall, and we will live like animals forever.”
At the Yayladagi refugee camp on the Turkish border with Syria, home for 3,000 Syrian refugees, there is growing pessimism. Sahir Jwayri, a woman from Homs who has been living at the camp for the past year, shouted her frustration.
“I’ve lost faith in the Arab League, the international community, Kofi Annan,” she says, referring to the former U.N. secretary-general who brokered a truce that did not hold.
Sahir says her four children cannot go to school like normal because they are not Turkish citizens. The younger three are able to attend school three days a week at the camp, but her eldest, who had just started her first year at university in Syria, studying literature, is unable to continue his studies.
Sahir’s husband fights in the Free Syrian Army, but she is desperate for him to stop and emigrate to another country.
“I just want my family by my side and to live in any country. I’ve given up. The future is destroyed,” she says.
Mohammed Omar, 11, dreamed of being a doctor. When the uprising began he was at school in the Hama province where his favorite subject was biology. In the camp’s temporary school, there is no biology. “I miss it,” he says.
Long walk to safety
Some here came with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. Abu Khalid, 30, fled in his pajamas after Assad’s army spent 20 days in his village in Lattakia province.
“They killed cows, animals, they burned jeeps, they burned houses,” he says.
When Khalid’s uncle was killed for attending an anti-government protest, his wife and children were made to sign a document saying he had been killed by terrorists, Khalid says. He says he arrived in Turkey after walking for two days through the snow across a mountain pass.
“We hear people say things against the Syrian regime on television, but they don’t do anything,” he says. “When animal-rights organizations say something is happening to animals, we hear all of them speak about it on television. Now all of these people are being killed, but nobody’s doing anything. Animals are living better than we are.”