Syria: “We were a group of many people, where are they now?”
As World Refugee Day approaches, Save the Children’s Catherine Carter reports from the Lebanon/Syria border.
The crossing point is metres away from where I’m standing and I can see into Syria. Vicious clouds of sand and grit surround us, and the sun is beating down – the average temperature here is 40 degrees. Trucks stream past us, crammed with sacks of food and desperate refugees. There are grey mountains as far as the eye can see – and an incongruous Ferris wheel, part of a long-abandoned children’s park, strangely situated here on this dusty border.
A crowded truck pulls over, and from the window the hardened face of a young man appears. He’s been injured in Syria and is clasping his leg tightly. We start to talk but I’m conscious that he’s wounded and many other people are crammed into the truck in the heat. He must need to be on his way. When I say this he snorts. “We have been on the road to here for five days without food or water, what difference does 10 minutes make?”
I laugh wryly and ask where they have all travelled from. They came as a group across the dangerous border, from a nearby town that has been under heavy siege. Many people died there, but the man, Mohammed*, thinks the true death toll may never be known. He tells me a little about the journey, wincing occasionally as he flexes his injured leg.
We are not fighters, we had no weapons”
“We were part of a group of many people, but where are they now? We had to pass through a dangerous path, we divided into groups: there are many more behind us. There were 50 people injured like me. So they carried us on sheets and on their backs.”
I look at the rest of his party. There are perhaps five men: the other 15 are old women and children. I can’t imagine them carrying this man far, let alone 50 injured people. Suspecting I know the answer, I ask why the journey was so dangerous.
Mohammed gestured at the women and children. “We travelled with guns shooting at us. We had to hide behind trees when this happened…we are not fighters, we had no weapons, only thin almond trees to hide behind to protect ourselves.”
I nod sadly. It is a familiar story here. He goes on to tell me that “people died on the journey, and when they did, we could not even bury them because the ground was too hard to dig a hole . So instead we collected stones to cover their bodies.”
I can see the pain in his eyes at this story. He tells me then that more people became injured on the journey, but he could not help them all – they had to leave some by the road. His expression is sad still, but I can see something else: shame.
Later, another father tells me that, for Syrians, there are two choices only. Stay and die in Syria, or risk the journey, and die a different kind of death.