Report on Syria (Reyhanli and Killis)
by Suraiya Vawda
Alhamdulillaah I am most grateful for the unbelievable experience I had on our mission to show solidarity and support to the thousands of displaced Syrian refugees. We were group of nine (five men and four women) who embarked on this incredible journey. This is my personal overview of our trip.
Reyhanli Refugee Camp
We were hosted by a Turkish Humanitarian organisation. We were welcomed by their representative who accompanied and translated for us throughout our journey. On arrival on the Turkish border town of Reyhanli we were briefed by a senior official who had personally walked 1200km along the Turkish/Syrian border to check the situation of the refugees.
Turkish Humanitarian Groups facilitate most of the relief work at the camps on the border. We visited a warehouse where a 24hr bakery is run. 14 000 units of bread is baked and packaged daily and delivered to the refugees. Tons of goods such as food packs, sanitary packs, baby packs, wheelchairs and blankets etc. is stored here ready for distribution whenever any organisation requests it. Incredibly well co-ordinated, and efficiently run by young Turkish men. Containers are also being kept here ready to be dispatched for container villages.
We met a ten year old boy Maalik whose leg was amputated due to shrapnel wounds whilst playing with friends. The sight of injured women housed in rooms by a family; a paralysed woman in bed; another elderly, blind and crippled woman who hugged us so warmly, cared by her daughter all display immense hope and tawakkul (faith in Allah). They told us that they were returning home the next day. We asked how, and a woman replied with the grace of Allah. Such is their imaan (faith) when to us their situation seems so hopeless.
We visited many patients at the hospital also in similar condition, some paralysed and others with broken bones due to bombs being dropped on their homes. The men visited the male patients who were also paralysed due to deliberate gunshots to the spine at the back of their necks. Handsome faces of young men loom over the injured brought to hospital. These are the faces of the freedom fighters (Mujahidoon), the hope of the Syrian people, who help bring the injured to the hospital. They are so committed to fighting in the way of Allah. Twenty-three year old Farhad’s two brothers and father were martyred and he is left alone with his mum, who refuses to leave. She cooks for the Mujahidoon inside Syria. He says that he too will fight till he is Shaheed. Subhaanallah!
The next day, while the men went across the border into Syria, we visited a co-ed school called Madrasa-tus-Salaam for displaced Syrian children, funded by Syrians from Canada. The principal, a motherly woman, showed us around and the children were rehearsing for their jalsah the next day. They were so enthusiastic and we were amazed by their spirit. Eighty children were qualifying in hifdh-ul Qur-aan! MashaaAllah they sang and a young lad rendered a beautiful recital of Surah Yaaseen which moved us to tears. We gave them some gifts and they hugged us and reluctantly let us go. It was a heart-warming experience!
We also visited another hifdh maktab. Although the children had left, the teachers showed us around. It is so great to see that Qur-aanic Studies are given priority in the Syrian education. Many students of all ages study here. They have Jumu‘ah salaah here for about five hundred musallees, The principal showed us a clip of some of her students recitals, and met a few young teachers also. They say that the students complete their hifdh in eight months here, but normally it takes only three months Amazing!
We then visited young widows and children of martyrs at an orphanage, but many had left because they couldn’t afford the rent. A young, beautiful widow with three children stayed there. She had lost her husband eight months ago. There was no water, and she also had to leave because she could not afford the rent. We assisted her in cash and her children loved the toys that we gave them. She broke down as we left, with a heavy heart, wondering about her future. We visited another twenty-five year old widow with four sons and a daughter. Her husband’s family had left them here and the neighbours were assisting her with food. She also could not afford the rent and was to be evacuated. She lives in dire conditions with just thin mattresses and a gas stove and fridge given to her. Alhamdulillaah we sponsored her rent for a year signed by the landlord.
Yet another widow with two little daughters was living with her elderly parents. Her husband went to his friend’s aid and became shaheed (martyr). We assisted her as well. There are many more like these, ones we did not reach let alone know about.
Torture by Bashar al Assad’s army
The next day we left for Killis, another border town about three hours away. We stopped in a town called Killikhan for Jumu‘ah. A Turkish Humanitarian aid runs a mobile clinic here, with Syrian volunteer doctors and a woman named Rugda, an engineer who is also volunteering here. After performing our salaah, she spoke of her family’s shocking encounter with Bashar’s soldiers.
She lived in Hamaa and soldiers broke into her home at night, took her husband (also an engineer) prisoner and stole all her valuables. The next night they returned and swearing at her in front of her three young sons and took her prisoner as well. One can only imagine how these women were treated in jail. She bribed a guard with thousands of lira to get out. She paid another the equivalent of $50 000 for her husband but they refused to release him, until there was a prisoner exchange after six months. Only then he was released. They left Syria and he refuses to return.
She cried as she told of how her young nephews were tortured in front of their families if they refused to say “Laa illaaha illaa bashar”. Na‘oodhubillah min dhaalik! The soldiers poured hot oil on him, broke his bones, and refused him water by pouring it down after bringing it mockingly to his lips. He was then imprisoned. Another was shot at point blank in front of his mother. and the third inhumanely killed ripping him open with knife. Their mother refuses to leave Syria.
We arrived in Killis, and were given the good news that we, the ladies, could enter Syria the next day. They were not willing to take us previously as it was too dangerous and they did not want to be responsible for our safety. After some persuasion they agreed. I was overjoyed.
So off we went legally through the Turkish border walking through no mans land into Syria, in immense heat about 42 degrees midday. Syrian side is in control by the Mujahidoon, We passed many families, mostly women and children with bare belongings trying to cross the border. Many not knowing where they heading, except hoping for a better life. We visited Turkish humanitarian aid facilities, a mobile clinic, and bakery at the tented camp.
Conditions are terrible. It’s like a prison, fenced off and refugees cannot leave. Families are living in tents here for almost three years. It’s dry, barren and extremely hot, and one encounters the stench due to poor sanitation. In winter temperature will drop to below freezing as it snows here. The number of refugees are staggering here. They are provided with basics, and their lives are basically at a standstill. It was heartbreaking!
Then we went to the containerised camp for widows and orphans. Much better facilities here, with a fully equipped kitchen and laundry. Everything very clean and neat. Beautiful children tugged at our hearts as they sang for us in their container madrasah. Here we handed out our last gifts. We were welcomed with true Arab hospitality. Wished we could take a few orphans with us, but protocol does not allow this.
Next we visited a new container village with a hundred units, given to families of the shaheed (those killed by Bashar al Assad). This was sponsored by Qatar Relief, equipped with communal ablution facilities, spacious kitchen and tented school and masjid. We gave our speech to the elders explaining in Arabic that we had come from South Africa to support and show solidarity that their status has been raised due to their museebah and that they should remain steadfast. This brought them to tears and made us emotional as well. Land has been cleared for more container villages here, as the funds arrive. Refugees from the tents will be relocated here In-shaa-Allah.
Last we drove quickly through a town called Azaz, which had been bombed earlier. There are more than 11,000 people in this area. Aid arrives from Turkey and Qatar. Tents have been delivered by the Doha Red Crescent, and a Turkish NGO provides two hot meals per day. Also here some refugees are giving lessons as volunteers to four hundred children in three big tents set up as schools.
We watched in horror at how the masjid had been attacked by tanks, which eventually got stuck and the soldiers who then hid inside were killed by the Mujaahidoon. Destroyed tanks and bombed buildings, which had been beautiful mansions before, shocked us.
We met a burly freedom fighter, among many other foreign fighters from Chechnya and Bosnia and Afghanistan supporting the locals. May Allah assist and grant them victory to liberate Syria and grant the Shaheed (martyrs) Jannatul Firdous. The town seems to be being rebuilt. There were convoys of trucks containing cement waiting to enter Syria. In January 2013, the air raids over Azaz killed at least thirty people, most of them civilians. In the other cities, such as Aleppo, Idlib and Damascus the front line remains deadly. In these two years of conflict the United Nations estimate that the number of victims has risen beyond 70,000, and the amount of refugees in the region exceeds one million people. May Allah grant the refugees a means to return and live peacefully in their homes once again.
We finally met some officials of Turkish Humanitarian NGOs. We praised them for their efforts and the way the organisation was efficiently run by committed young staff. It was impressive to see the youth with such motivation. The vice president said they only recruit those who wish to work for sake of Allah. We gave our contribution knowing that this was the most reliable way of assisting the refugees, and to encourage the Ummah in supporting such organisations In-shaa-Allah.