When There is No Place to Hide

Displacement from Hama leads to disaster.

When There is No Place to Hide

Displacement from Hama leads to disaster.

Sabah and her family left their home in Kfar Nbuda in a daze. The government had given residents 24 hours to get out, and all of a sudden the 58-year-old found herself homeless with nowhere to go.

Sabah’s displacement from Hama’s northern countryside began on October 6, 2015. When she fled, her only concern was to find a safe place to live, but times were difficult and she had little money.

“I had seven children and five grandchildren,” recalled Sabah. “My husband had passed away and our financial situation was dire. The cost of travel was high, and we had very little money.”

Along with thousands of others, Sabah sought shelter in the liberated villages of Jabal al-Zawiya, but the large number of refugees had pushed rents up and she was unable to find suitable, affordable housing.

Disheartened, Sabah was forced to search for a home elsewhere.

“We heard that a refugee camp was under construction in al-Naqir village in Idlib’s southern countryside,” she said. “So we decided to try our luck there.

When Sabah and her family arrived at the camp, it was already overcrowded and conditions were squalid. Nevertheless, they gladly accepted the tent they were assigned. They had slept out in the open for the past few days, and the tent felt like luxurious in comparison. As they went to sleep that night, Sabah’s family felt safe and blessed.

Unfortunately, their peace was short lived.

“That first night it was freezing cold, so I covered my children and grandchildren with everything we had,” said Sabah. “A short while after we fell asleep, the camp was targeted by missiles, and our tents turned into balls of fire.”

Sabah woke up to the frenzied sound of screaming and crying. She tried to get her family out to safety, but lost consciousness before she could help them.

When she came to, Sabah found herself lying in a hospital bed where she received tragic news. One of her daughters and one of her grandchildren had been killed. All of her other children had been injured, along with the majority of the refugee camp’s residents.

“Russian air forces bombed the camp with cluster bombs and other artillery,” Sabah said, weeping. “What kind of threat did we pose to them? Why would they bomb us so mercilessly while we slept? Why are they trying to force us out of our country?”

Usama al-Ahmad, one of the paramedics who rushed to the scene, described the devastation to Damascus Bureau.

“The situation was appalling. All the tents were on fire and most of the refugees were either injured or dead,” said the 27-year-old. “Sabah had fainted due to asphyxiation. She had also suffered numerous wounds and burns while trying to protect her grandchildren using her own body.”

In his experience, most of the victims of such strikes were innocent civilians and children, al-Ahmad added.

Following the attack, Sabah’s eldest son Ahmad suggested the family flee to a camp in Turkey, arguing that life would be safer there than in Syria. His mother refused.

“My mother is a courageous woman and has great faith in God,” said the 32-year-old. “She lives in hope that the war will end soon, and we will be able to go back home”.

Sabah’s daughter-in-law Amal, who lost her five-year-old child in the attack, seemed to agree.

“Our cruel regime has killed many of our children, youth, and men,” said the 23-year-old bitterly. “But they will never wipe out a whole population. The people will continue to be a thorn in their flesh. Our martyrs have not died in vain.”

Sabah said she remained resolute.

“This is our country,” she continued. “We will not abandon or leave it. Our lives are not more precious than those of the martyrs who died before us. We seek either victory, or martyrdom”.

Razan al-Sayid is the pseudonym of a Damascus Bureau contributor living in Maarat al-Numan, Syria along with her three children. The 28-year-old holds a BA in education and works as a teacher.

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

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