“Since January 2011 the Syrian Arab Republic, a sovereign state with 18 million people, has been under attack. Hundreds of thousands have died; three million have fled the country; half the nation’s population has been displaced..”. James Ryan (ICC Submission Report Oct 2014 here)
It is January 22nd 2015, four years after Bashar Al Assad was berated by the West for suggesting his country was under ‘terrorist attack’ from foreign fighters intent on bringing Syria to her knees.
This is what I know of one families story. I will call the young mother ‘She’.
She’s family are Palestinians who have been in Damascus since her mother and father fled as children with their parents families when the Israelis took their country by force in 1948 Nakba. The original family home of her father 1948 is believed to now be an Israeli Military Museum or Police Station.
The families home was the Palestinian village of Lubya. The village and its surrounds are now known as South African Park. The whole village, (with history dating well before Saladin who camped nearby during the war against the Crusaders in 1187), was erased by Zionist terrorists in 1948. The park was created as part of the JNF Zionist masterplan to erase Palestine’s Arab history and was created using South African Jewish donations to the JNF (Jewish National Fund). http://www.jalili48.com/pub/xENShowGallery.aspx?sub=What_Remained_of_the_destroyed&sub2=Lubyeh&Cid=259
Many years have passed since that time, 66 to be precise……………. She has never seen Lubya, nor is She allowed to ever return there, to live or to visit.
In January 2014, 5 months pregnant with her 3rd child, She left Damascus with her husband, 5 year old son, 7 month old daughter, brother’s Syrian wife and their 7 month old daughter. The six travelled together from Damascus to Beirut by taxi, lucky to secure someone brave or hungry enough to drive them. I say ‘hungry’ because we all know there are some who will brave these things for a price. Corruption extras always come into consideration when you are desperate particularly in times of war, the rich get out before it gets too bad and Palestinians know all about paying extras because of statelessness and lack of nationhood.
The family had lived in Al Yarmouk Palestinian area (Al Yarmouk simply translates as ‘The Camp’). She had witnessed more than She will ever tell us.
In March 2012 her younger 24 yo brother died in a military hospital in Damascus, nine days after being shot in the neck. Details of his shooting remain unclear except to say it was a direct result of political ‘tensions’ fomenting in Syria. He was in the final month of his compulsory military duty as a Palestinian in Syria. Before returning to complete his national service he was awarded a university degree in Journalism and it looked like he had everything in life to look forward to. His funeral was one of the last shaheed street funerals in Yarmouk as they had become too dangerous due to ‘opposition’ sniper attacks. It was a loud Palestinian affair and the street was filled with his friends, stunned and enraged by his death. He was loved in his community and they sent him off in style.
She had a home near her parents house in the centre of Yarmouk. At the time, and for some time afterwards the family home was considered to be in the safer area of the camp.
Hani Abas Quarter Damascus
The image is by a Palestinian from Al Yarmouk Syria, clever and poignant and I had to save it. I sincerely apologise for not having the information to credit the artist who also does not know how much this moved me.
Basically the whole street is (or should I say was as so many are now dead or scattered refugees) related to She’s family and they stuck together. Incursions from outside were happening on a regular basis around the edges of the suburb with people coming through Jordan and Dara’a. Suicide car bombings by ‘opposition’ fighters occurred at the road entrances to Yarmouk and local groups of young men ‘manned’ the entries and exits in and out of Yarmouk to prevent further incursions from ‘outsiders’ who could not be trusted. Sniper attacks inside the camp area became more common, people disappeared, abductions for ransoms were commonplace, people died or were thrown when dead into the street. One of her cousins was shot dead through the eye, his brothers disappeared. Mortar attacks from surrounding suburbs to the south of Yarmouk and the city of Damascus began, again by an ‘opposition’ seeking to ‘involve the Palestinians’ further in the Syrian turmoil most had tried to avoid. The geographical placement of Yarmouk as closer to Damascus centre made it a worthy target for those seeking to remove Al Assad.
One morning She took her son and baby daughter to her parents home. When She returned to her home, it had been completely flattened by a mortar. Her husband’s father was a ‘person of interest’ to the ‘opposition’ and therefore his son, her husband, was one of their targets. Abductions were ongoing and ransoms and extortion more commonplace. Perhaps they knew where her husband lived and the mortar attack was targeted perhaps it was just another to destabilise a community. On another occasion he was driving a truck for work and stopped by a ‘random road block’, the men of no noticeable affiliation demanded he leave the truck, he managed to bribe them and was allowed to continue. The situation in Yarmouk became more and more dangerous. Her husband’s job was becoming untenable as it was too risky.
The family agreed She and her husband could build another apartment on the top of their home and they began to build. Permits were a thing of the past, the war meant you did what you needed to do, bureaucracy was busy. They rented another apartment while they built but it seemed like no time passed before this too was targeted and hit by a mortar in the downstairs area. She was home at the time, survived the bombing and scrambled with her child, a four year old boy downstairs over the shambles of concrete and dead people to the street below and on to her parents home.
Al Nusra had infiltrated the camp and fighters were targeting more people. These people were initially known to be Chechens, Libyans and others with a long history of fighting across Chechnya, Afghanistan, Libya Iraq and now Syria. The source of their funds was known in the camp to be foreign money channelled through Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. This was not a Civil Syrian War.
What started as outsiders with agendas that targeted Palestinians to further their own cause was clearly a well considered military strategy reliant on foreign interests and logistical support and internal collaboration within Syria and indeed Yarmouk. It only takes a few people to ‘align’ with these outsiders to set the ball rolling. Early mortar activities demolished bakeries the main food source, the mosque was targeted. Friday prayer was the time the men met outside the Mosque to discuss strategies and resistance to the outsiders. Nusra now held stronger power, and attacked the Mosque, Western reports said it was Assads forces but the people in the Camp knew different. The attackers were careful not to damage the building their attack was designed to scare people away and to target their opposition.
photo of street in Al Yarmouk taken 2014 apologies site and photographer unknown but street identified by reliable source.
She moved outside the camp to a safer area of Damascus and rented a home near her Syrian sister-in-law, who’s husband (her brother) had been working in the UAE.
Her mother moved in November 2012 to safety to stay with another daughter, in Sharja, UAE. The family was particularly relieved to have their mother safe for the brief time her papers would allow, as she had maintained a vigil at her martyred son’s grave in Yarmouk. The graveyard had been selectively desecrated and had become a sniper and mortar target where mourners were being picked off one by one. An old woman visiting her dead son’s grave was a target. This old woman did not want to leave.
In May, 2013, She and her Syrian sister in law had their babies in the main hospital in Damascus on the same day, two girls.
Her father left to be with his wife in the Emirates in August 2013 with the clear intention of them returning to their Damascus home when the fighting ceased and Yarmouk was safe once more. He did not want to leave either.
With all her immediate family in Damascus now gone, She, pregnant again with a third child left for Beirut. Their intention to go by land to Beirut then use their air travel tickets from Beirut to Bangkok via Dubai. In May that year the same border was closed to Palestinians.
Lebanon then introduced further entry restrictions on Palestinians fleeing Syria. Dalia Aranki, an aid worker with the Norwegian Refugee Council, said: “For them, the border has effectively been closed since May 2014.” see here
Few taxi drivers were prepared to undertake the route from Damascus to the Lebanese Border but they found one who would drive for a price. At the Lebanese border corruption was in full sway, people who were used to their money buying the assistance of those in positions of influence were not surprised or offended by this and they paid the extra $500 US requested for them to get through. Beirut airport had the same ‘system’ Palestinians are used to having to pay more than others and despite their tickets being legal and in their hands they were asked to pay more money, another $2500 in order to board the plane to Dubai.
In Dubai, her brother boarded the same flight to Bangkok. They were now seven, two young families. When they arrived in Bangkok there were few problems, passports and visa’s were all legitimate and despite being thoroughly grilled about their intentions were allowed to enter. That was 12 months ago exactly.
Within the first week of arriving in Bangkok in Jan 2014 both families approached the UNHCR. They were clearly refugees, (already as Palestinians they are registered with UNRWA but the lack of coordination and transparency between the two UN agencies meant they were unable to process anything at the time.) additionally, the Syrian sister-in-law and the Syrian Palestinians obviously left because of the dangers of the war and had papers verifying their status.
What I am now going to tell you makes no sense to me whatsoever- the UNHCR gave both families an appointment to register as refugees for July 2015, in 18 months time! Perhaps they were waiting for them to move with smugglers and die at sea, or be locked up in Thai or Cambodian Immigration gaols, or just starve!
In January 2015 there are believed to be 900 Palestinian Asylum Seekers currently in Thailand. 645400 people are on UNHCR books, 506200 being declared ‘stateless’. see source here UNHCR None are understood to have returned or left Thailand since arrival (as of July 2014). On the last trip to the Cambodian border to renew a perfectly valid Thai Visa, the families were told if they entered Cambodia they could not get back into Thailand due to their travel documents being Syrian Palestinian. They chose to remain, overstay their visa and live illegally in Thailand with no other reasonable option at their disposal.
LUCKY, they are not sitting freezing in a refugee camp on the Turkish border,
There has been a lot happen in the past year…… her son cannot start school, her third child was born without papers (millions of children across the globe are considered by authorities not to exist as they have no documentation, particularly stateless peoples), her brother has been hospitalised for stomach surgery. Her father is struggling with a recent heart attack in UAE and without finances will not get appropriate treatment. Financial support from a family member who provides this for 10 family members who are unsupported refugees has managed to keep them safe thus far but is becoming an impossible burden. These people are not terrorists, they just want ‘normal lives’, they are not ‘economic refugees’, they are ready to work, ready to contribute, ready to sleep safely.
The narrative presented in my country (Australia) on these issues is void of any reality on the ground. Even worse, nobody gives a shit or it’s all too hard. Charlie Hebdo, Freedom of Speech, Some lunatic fringe caftan in a café and now we’re a terror target? Muslims don’t share our values. They don’t respect women. they blah blah dumb blah.
What is it with humans?
All this aside, today’s plan is insane.
She has decided to try to travel with her three children to Lebanon then into Idlib in Syria, from where she will travel north to Allepo and then onto the Turkish Border where she expects to be able to get into Turkey. Madness! She expects to then bring her husband.
I am desperately trying to understand why this insane move seems even possible to them.
‘friends’ overseas in Lebanon and in Turkey have said it is possible?
She believes she is safer with her children with her?
She believes her children will be safe and will have a chance at a future in Europe?
She is so severely traumatised she can’t think straight?
She has no patience to wait for the UNHCR possibly a further 3 years after their registration interview in July, if that date is not moved back even further?
Maybe tomorrow I will wake up and some wonderful new news will greet me. Aghhhhhhhhh Other links: http://electronicintifada.net/content/lebanon-hostile-refuge-palestinians-fleeing-war-syria/14171 http://www.brighteningglance.org/uploads/3/1/2/4/3124704/address_redacted_icc_criminal_complaint_criminal_carnage_in_syria_and_the_criminal_cabal_for_perpetual_war.pdf