Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Syria's Children All Deserve to Live

A mother describes the guilt of leaving the country to seek refuge abroad.
By Umm Sara

I never wanted to leave Syria. I never even wanted to leave my own city, but the siege forced us into exile. Life became impossible. We were bombed daily and had no services, no medication, nothing but the smell of gunpowder drifting into our houses.

We headed to the capital Damascus, but it was not much safer there. We were hated by the Syrian government and we were unable to escape harassment at checkpoints in the city as security became increasingly tight.

My husband decided to leave the country. He said he had suffered enough at the checkpoints, and his work situation was also precarious. He decided he could no longer live in Syria. I did not agree with his conclusion, and I still had some hope that we could manage. Nevertheless, I agreed that he should leave.

My daughter has had constant nightmares since our house was shelled with us inside. She repeats awful phrases in her sleep, “They burned me, they beat Daddy, they burned my things.” As as result of the psychological trauma, she suffers from alopecia areata, which affects the hair follicles and causes baldness. It appears suddenly, sometimes after a particularly stressful event.

I took her to a pediatrician for help with her alopecia. Even while we were in the clinic, we heard the sounds of shells being fired from a nearby military unit.

The doctor’s response was brief, “Your daughter does have this condition, but I don’t have the right medication to treat it.”

I realised then that my husband was right. My daughter and I had to leave Damascus.

We headed to my parents’ house to tell them our decision. Although they were saddened, they wished us well. I could see through my mother’s tears that she was happy, since she could at least be sure one of her children would be safe.

But their tears made me ashamed of my choice. It was as if I was telling the people who had raised me and expended so much energy on me that my children’s lives were more important than theirs, than those of my sister’s children, and than the lives of the other children in my country.

Forgive me. Your lives are important. You all deserve life. But I saved those whom I could.

Save those who remain of my country’s children. Save my brothers and sisters. Save my sister’s children. They all deserve life.

This story was produced by Syria Stories (previously Damascus Bureau), IWPR’s news platform for Syrian journalists.