News / Middle East

Traumatized Syrians Flee Government Crackdown

Newly-arrived Syrian refugees walk to their tents in the Turkish border town of Reyhanli in Hatay province, as others who are already placed rest in front of their tents (File)
Newly-arrived Syrian refugees walk to their tents in the Turkish border town of Reyhanli in Hatay province, as others who are already placed rest in front of their tents (File)


The Assad government's violent repression of a five-month-old popular uprising is sending thousands of Syrians into Turkey and Lebanon as refugees. Several hundred of them recently sought food and medical assistance at a mosque in northern Lebanon's Wadi Khaled region, a few kilometers from the Syrian border.

It is early afternoon at the Makhtoum mosque near the Syrian border. Lebanese relief workers are distributing aid to refugees who fled the violence in Syria.

Ali Mohamad al-Kurdi, 60, arrived two months ago with just the clothes on his back. Syrian militiamen raided his home. He says they killed and mutilated five young men in his family.

He says he is going to stay here until the regime falls and if the regime doesn't fall then he will kill himself here. He says no one is supporting the uprising, no countries, no nations. So it is better to commit mass suicide together here.

Syria Turmoil

Human rights groups say an estimated 1,700 people have died in the uprising and nearly 3,000 have disappeared. The Syrian government says it is pursuing armed terrorists. Dissidents say the only ones with arms are government troops and their militias.

Abdullah Tassi works with a local donor group, the Bekaa Youth for Development and Free Education. He says there are about 5,000 Syrian refugees in this area. When they first arrived they thought they would stay for just a few days.

“But after days go on and on, now they believe they are going to stay here for a long time. Some of them are trying to mingle with the [local] people and many of them are going to villages far from here,  said Tassi.

A Syrian refugee looks out from a medical tent at a refugee camp in the Turkish border town of Yayladagi in Hatay province July 1, 2011
A Syrian refugee looks out from a medical tent at a refugee camp in the Turkish border town of Yayladagi in Hatay province July 1, 2011

A half-dozen women are pressed against the side of a mobile clinic parked near the mosque. From a window a nurse writes down their names and gives them medicine.


Medical Assistant Kassim Ayoubi says most of the physical illnesses of the refugees are routine, like the flu. But mentally, he says, these people are traumatized.

He says they are not at all at ease. Mentally they are tired. There's fear, especially fear of being filmed.

Thirty-three year-old Um-Hamza cradles her baby in her arm and covers her face with her shawl. She gives only her first name out of fear.

Um-Hamza fled her home in Homs one month ago because her seven children were terrified. Yet, she remains defiant.

She says with God’s will, we will return because we have a will. We want our freedom. She says we want to live the same as others do. We don't hate anybody but we are persecuted. We want to lift the oppression from us. What if we sacrifice? What if a lot of us die? She says, it is not a problem.

Weakness exposed

An expert on Syria with London's Chatham House, Nadim Shehadi, says the Syrian uprising was a long time coming. This is because a regime that has survived for 40 years, like that of  Bashar al-Assad and his father Hafez al-Assad - does so by not allowing alternatives to emerge. But he says once its weaknesses are exposed it collapses.

"People woke up and realized that they have an alternative to living under a dictatorship of one man and his family and his cronies and having no say in their own future. And once people realize this it's irreversible," said Shehadi. "And no amount of reform can maintain a regime in power once that illusion is broken."

A young man with close-cropped hair has been following the food distribution. He says his name is Hassan al-Hassad and shows his Syrian passport.

He says he was a lieutenant in the Syrian army until one month ago when he defected and snuck across the border.

Syrian dissidents in Beirut confirmed his story was true.

Al-Hassad said several thousand other soldiers have defected from Syrian security forces. Led by a rebel-general based in Turkey, they are organizing a new army.

He says with the help of God, we are gathering together to stand against the oppressor, President Bashar al-Assad, and to support the defenseless Syrian people, in a peaceful way.

As the uprising continues and the repression intensifies, Syrians are calling for more international support, namely sanctions and diplomatic pressure. But they say they do not want foreign military intervention because theirs is to be a non-violent revolution.

Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs