One family’s dramatic escape from Syria

By Maha Abu Shama, Amnesty International’s Syria Campaigner

The shocking story of one family forced to flee Syria for refuge in neighbouring Jordan exchanging their home in Tasil for al-Ramtha Syrian Refugees’ Transitional Camp. For their safety we’ve concealed their real identity.

On 8 February 2012, the Syrian army launched a security operation against the southern village of Tasil, shattering what had been three months of relative safety for Mohammed and Salma and their fellow villagers.

Around nine in the morning, 22 tanks surrounded the village. They started shelling randomly. The Free Syrian army fighters, who Mohamed says had been protecting the village, fled, unable to fight off the army’s onslaught.

“I had just dressed my kid and was about to leave the house to take him to school when the army came. When I opened the door my neighbour said, ‘where are you going? Go back, we are under attack’,” Salma said.

“I took the children to the nearby house of my sister-in-law. Mohammed, who is wanted, was in hiding in an underground storage room in the centre of the village. I supported my husband’s activities but I was always afraid something bad would happen to him.”

Mohammed added: “I was arrested three times before for taking part in the demonstrations. During my detention I was beaten badly. If you are an activist or wanted you must not remain at home. Now I prefer to die than to be arrested again.”

Mohammed and Salma told me that since the incursion, on 8 February, 32 people in the village had been killed. Only the remains of three were delivered to their families. “They no longer hand over the bodies to their families.”

Since mid-March 2011, it appears that invasions of villages in the Dera’a directorate became all too common in a bid to crush the Syrian uprising.

The daily conversations of Dera’a residents have been injected with stories of horrific disregard for human life, dignity and demands.As Salma and Mohammed put it “countless pages won’t be enough to record everything we have seen or heard”.

They told me about Ramzat al-‘Amer who was shot in his kidney while riding his motorcycle in an attempt to warn his dad about the attack.

They also mentioned Ahmed al-Belili, an elderly man who was killed.

“They arrested him as they went house-to-house. When they finished beating and insulting him, they instructed him to run back to his children. As he started to walk away, they started shooting at him while shouting: “Run man! Run!” He was an old man and quite injured so he could not run fast enough. They shot him in the chest. His body remained in the street ‘till the following day, as people were too afraid to be shot if they attempted to retrieve it.”

They counted the houses and shops that were looted and burned.

“When an attack takes place, we the women wear all our gold and jewellery and we hide our money in the clothes we are wearing, so the security and army do not steal them during the home raids,” said Salma.

Mohammed and Salma told me that they had to seek refuge in Jordan. It had become increasingly dangerous for Mohammed to stay because he hosted some members of the Free Syrian army.

The journey was long, troublesome and dangerous. Under cover of darkness they left Tasil on 15 February on foot through the farms that surround the village.

“I wore black clothes and fed my two youngest boys three spoonfuls of sleeping solution. I was afraid that they would start crying and so alert the security to us. My eldest son who is five years old asked me to give him some, I said ‘no as we need you to walk’. We can not carry him around – he is too heavy,” Salma said.

At a nearby village they managed to find a taxi that took them a circuitous route to the border avoiding security checkpoints.

Before they crossed, they were warned that three men trying to escape to Jordan were killed the previous night by Syrian border guards.

The man helping them across warned them it was their responsibility if they want to continue but, even with their children, it was a risk they were prepared to take.

Sixty metres are said to separate the Syrian and Jordanian sides of the border – a distance punctuated by barbed wire and steep earth banks.

“Those 60 metres are the most dangerous. If you are spotted there by the Syrian border security, they will shoot. We crossed them crawling on all fours so as not to be seen,” Mohammed said.

“As soon as we arrived in Jordan, the Jordanian army rushed towards us to help us. My five year old son got scared and started screaming ‘the security …the security!’ I calmed him down: “Don’t worry, son, these are the Jordanians, not the Syrians.”

Read more:Syria: ‘The man they were shooting at is actually my husband’ (Blog, 18 February 2012)