What does it mean to have been born in Syria five years ago?
Um Hani is a 35 year old mother of three children. Her youngest daughter, Julia, was born five years ago, at the beginning of the war in Syria. Her husband was arrested right after his daughter's birth, so she had to move to her family's town where she got stuck under siege for almost three years. She was living on the hope that her husband is still alive and will come back to save them from what they are going through. A year ago he was released and shortly afterwards, they managed to flee to Turkey where they are now struggling to survive the harsh life of a refugee.
"No mother would be sad to see her new born baby, but when she does; then you need to know that life is no longer bearable, I remember I cried when I gave birth to Julia, the war was just starting and we were already struggling to afford for our children, my husband was working in constructions and since the war started his work stopped, we were living in a rented apartment and we had many other commitments to cover, we went through very difficult times especially when the shelling and clashes became almost daily, we thought about leaving to another city or town but the same situation was everywhere, and when Julia was almost one year old her father went out to get some dinner and never came back, we waited and waited but he just disappeared, some people told me that he might be arrested as many men in our neighbourhood got arrested, I knocked all doors, asked and begged to know anything about him but I couldn’t even know if he is still alive or not, I only knew more than a year later, when one of the people he met in prison was released and he called me to tell me that my husband is alive in detention centre."
Julia, showing that she reached 5 years old outside her family’s shelter in southern Turkey
"When my husband got arrested, all my children were under three years old and I was a housewife, I didn’t have any income and I couldn’t get any job, I had to leave our house and move to live with my family who were already struggling to survive with the harsh conditions of the war, for almost six months our area was under siege, food and fuels became scares, there were days when we fed the children hot water with some spices and herbs as soup, we burnt some furniture in the stove for heating, we thought we will never survive, I cried every single night, I prayed until I lost my voice, there is no kind of torture that could be worse than watching your own children crying for food, I will never be able to get over those days, no one would, people became monsters, everyone –including myself- would prioritize his own children, and they would do anything to get them a loaf of bread, people killed for food, I don’t want to remember those days, I wish I never lived and never seen what happened to my own people under siege."
Julia 5 years old laying on her mother’s arm inside their shelter in southern Turkey
"When we had the chance we fled to my brother’s, the situation was not much better but at least they had food, everyone was leaving the country but I couldn’t, I knew my husband was alive somewhere in a detention centre, I always thought about the moment he will be released, where would he go if I left, how would he find me, his daughters were growing up, Julia knew him only by a photo I had from our marriage, I didn’t want to face the fact that he might never be released or that he might be killed like many others, I was too afraid to think about this option, I lived on the hope to see him again, I counted the hours and minutes for three years, Julia was four year old when he was released, she couldn’t recognise him of course, I myself didn’t recognise him when I saw him for the first time, he was half his weight and he looked like he grew forty years, yet I was thrilled to see him again, he went through the worst kinds of torture that left him almost disabled, he was barley walking, and I also looked like ghosts, after everything we went through we didn’t even discuss leaving the country, we just did it."
Julia 5 years old wearing a paper crown and holding her favorite toy in her family shelter in southern Turkey
"We have been here for a year now, things are not great but still they are not to be compared to what we went through, so I always thank god to see my children and beloved one here around me, I have no one but them, my family were shattered each one in a country, and we don’t know for how long we will be staying here, we know nothing about what might happen to us as my husband cannot work because of his health situation, but all that doesn’t really matter when I see the girls coming from school laughing and singing, when I see them playing with their father, when I see them eating and sleeping warm with a full belly."
"This war is filthy, those five years are shame on all the peoples of the world, everyday tens of children die or get injured because some men in suites didn’t agree on how much profits they will gain, we paid the price of these five years, our children paid the price of greedy men failures, we used to call Huda and Israa: Dr. Huda and Dr. Israa, since they were still breastfeeding, we wanted them to become doctors and pharmacists like their uncles and aunts, but look at them now, what future is waiting for them! After those five years of sorrow, hunger, displacement and misery, we don’t want them to be doctors any more, we just want them to live in peace, we just want them to be children and enjoy life away from killing and bombing. I hate that I don’t have any more dreams, but I truly want only one thing in this life, to live and die in peace, that’s all."
*Name has been changed to protect identity