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The Swallows of Syria

[Jdeideh, Lebanon - Karam, twenty-eight, from Homs] [Jdeideh, Lebanon - Karam, twenty-eight, from Homs]

[Note: The views and testimonies herein are the refugees’ own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author or of Jadaliyya.]

Somaya left Homs, Syria after finding the corpse of her tortured son in a sewage ditch. Zaynab escaped with her family when she discovered that Syrian soldiers kidnapped, raped, and killed three of her schoolmates. Aziza fled after snipers killed both her husband and sister-in-law. Reports indicate that refugees and residents have also been subjected to abuse and assault by unknown, non-regime, fighters.

Thousands of other Syrian women like them have escaped to Lebanon and are hiding in small villages within a few kilometers of the border, at the mercy of secret service agents allied with the Assad regime. Far from the safety of the refugee camps in Turkey, here, Syrian women live in constant fear of being kidnapped or killed. Frightened that registering with the UN will make them vulnerable to a potentially hostile Lebanese government, these women hide in filthy basements and makeshift tents while consuming their last meager savings to barely survive in a country that doesn't want them.

Ignored by the Lebanese government, which refuses to recognize them as refugees, they cannot work and raise money for their families. While local Lebanese families initially host some of them, they soon must look for a place to rent. Separated from their relatives and friends, and unable to send their kids to school, some are even starting to question the outcome of the Syrian revolution, regretting the peaceful life they used to live before the Arab Spring.

I collected the personal stories and pictures of more than twenty Syrian women, and recorded their feelings of grief, bitterness, and hope for the future of their country. All of them are face-covered to protect their safety.

Captions

Jdeideh, Lebanon - Karam, twenty-eight, from Homs. Her house was in Baba Amr, right in front of the Syrian Army tanks. The Free Syrian Army helped her during the clandestine trip to Lebanon. “They showed us the way, they kept my little baby safe ... If it weren't for them, we would not be here today.”

Jdeideh, Lebanon – Asma, thirty, from Al-Qusayr. "One day they knocked at the door. When I opened it, I was carrying my baby in my arms. They asked me where my husband was, and I told them he was not in. So one of the soldiers took out a knife from his pocket and cut my baby's throat who died in my arms."

Jdeideh, Lebanon - Tara, twenty-five (left, holding her son), escaped from Baba Amr, Homs. She left Syria after they destroyed her house. Her husband stayed to help his father. She is still hoping to hear from him. Unfortunately, her family knows that the Syrian army killed him one month later, but they would rather not tell her.

Jdeideh, Lebanon - Rasha, twenty-seven, from Soran. Besides her husband and two children, the rest of her family is still in Syria. Rasha would like to settle in Lebanon. One of her brothers serves in the army, and she is concerned the Free Syrian Army might kill him.  

Sahl el Faqaa, Lebanon - Somaya, fifty-six, from Talbiseh, on the outskirts of Homs. Masked soldiers arrested her 31-year-old son Ali during a raid on her house. Three days later, his severely tortured body was found in a nearby sewage ditch. “He had a huge wound in the stomach, one of his arms was broken, and both kneecaps had been removed,” she recounts. She now lives in Lebanon with two of her sons, who work as laborers in the nearby fields to raise some money.

Jdeideh, Lebanon - Nour, five, from Al-Qusayr, escaped Syria with her mother and brothers after living in an underground cave for almost three months. A Lebanese family is now hosting her. Nour is still psychologically traumatized by the war. Every time she hears the bell ring, or someone knocking at the door, she starts to panic and cry thinking that the Syrian army is here to get her.

Tripoli, Lebanon - Samira, twenty-eight, arrived from Hama, with her four children. She had to take five cars and bribe her way through the military checkpoints up to the Lebanese border. It cost her four hundred dollars, four times her husband’s average monthly wage. She now lives in Tripoli. “I miss the soil of Syria, the land”, she explains, before bursting into tears. “We live in misery here. The kids do not go to school, and every time my husband is late I become hysterical, fearing that he might have been stopped at a checkpoint and sent back to Syria.”

Jdeideh, Lebanon - Najiba, sixty-three, from the village of Soran. She arrived in Lebanon after the first protests erupted in Hama. “The Army was shooting at everyone, I remember seeing fifty or sixty people dead.” She now lives in a concrete shed in an orchard. In exchange for looking after the trees, she can stay for free. “I would go back to Syria tomorrow, if it were not for the kids. I am very worried about their safety,” she explains, pointing at the four grandchildren she lives with.

Jdeideh, Lebanon - Aziza, thirty-five, a Turkmen Syrian from Al-Qusayr. She fled her home after sniper fire killed her husband and sister-in-law (whose kids she is now raising) while going to the souq. She constantly goes back to Al-Qusayr to check on her father, whose health is deteriorating fast. She lives in a makeshift tent camp in the Beqaa Valley, where she picks fruit to survive. She gets paid less than five dollars for seven hours of work per day.

Tripoli, Lebanon - Zaynab, sixteen, from Al-Khalidiya, in Homs. She fled with her family after the army repeatedly knocked at their door to look for her father. An honor student, she was unable to attend lessons after soldiers kidnapped, raped, and killed some of her schoolmates in January. Zaynab is taking care of her father and her siblings who are all mentally disabled. When asked what it is that she misses the most from home, she replied: “The smell of Homs.”

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