2012 YEAR IN REVIEW

Remarkable stories from an extraordinary year

I was there...with Syrian refugees at the Turkish border

The world held its breath in September as the uprising in Syria against President Bashar Assad's dictatorial regime became a full-blown civil war.

More than four million people became refugees as they fled the violence. Charity worker Rose Alhomsi, 22, witnessed the suffering of families trapped at the Turkish border.


"I'd always previously arrived in Syria from the UK at Damascus airport. After reclaiming my luggage, I'd rush to arrivals, picking my way through the crowds to find my uncles and cousins who would run towards me, screaming with excitement.

That's how it was for 20 years or so, once or twice a year, ever since I was born.

In September, I crossed into my homeland across the Turkish border for the first time. I was with a UK-based charity called Hand in Hand for Syria, on a humanitarian mission to assess the needs of war-ravaged refugees.

I was immediately surrounded by children, one grabbed my hand and introduced herself. She was from the Aleppo suburbs. I was struck by how traumatised she was.

With a strange, inappropriate laughter, she told me: 'I came with my brother, and, umm, I think three other sisters, well I lost two sisters, we couldn’t find them when our house fell down after a plane hit.'

I asked her where her parents were, she laughed again and replied: 'I came with my brother and sisters only.'

Syrian boys clutching the only water available to them which brings an endless cycle of diseases (Rose Alhomsi …


It took a few minutes for me to take everything in. I was finally back after two years, but all I could see were homeless people.

Several women grabbed me, asking: 'Why is Turkey not letting us in? Why are YOU not letting us in?'

I tried to explain I had nothing to do with the Turkish government but the desperation in their eyes was heartbreaking.

One of the women explained they had been here for 40 days, sleeping in the open. The refugees were trapped in this northern "safe zone", close to the Turkish border.

Turkey had accommodated hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians. But they had run out of space in the camps and were building more. The border had been closed until they were ready.

Families were living under olive trees. There were few tents, and little sign of aid. Some had walked all the way from the south, close to the Lebanon border.

One woman, aged 22 like me, had come from Homs, hitchhiking with strangers through a war zone, knowing she could be abducted at any point.

But it was her only way of escaping the warplanes and explosions. She told me: 'I wanted to save my children after losing everything'.

I felt humbled and so small, talking to her. She told me that Lebanon, just a few hours from Homs, had not been an option. Assad's soldiers had planted landmines to stop refugees crossing and the regime’s shelling was reaching into Lebanon almost daily.

As I moved deeper into this sea of suffering, I heard a child crying, asking his mother to stop washing him with milk. Noticing my look of disbelief, some children took me to the tank where the liquid had come from.

I took a sample from deep inside. It was the same white liquid the child was being washed with.

'That is the water we drink,' one child told me.

Almost everyone was suffering from diarrhoea. And they could only rehydrate using the dirty water, which meant the cycle was endless and they would remain ill.

I asked to see what they used for toilets. The men had created a small brick box for the women, but I could not get close enough to inspect it as the stench was simply horrendous.

The makeshift camp where Rose visited. There is little aid and medical assistance available to the refugees (Rose …


Many women were suffering from vaginal and urinary tract infections, causing them severe pain. There was no medication.

Food was scarce. A Turkish charity dropped food packages for 2000 people twice a day, but there were over 7500 refugees to feed.

Countless people had medical problems. A lady was bleeding in her sixth month of pregnancy. There was nothing that could be done. A child was suffering seizures with no medication available.

Several diabetic children and adults were ill with worrying weight loss. A little girl in dire need of her final chemotherapy dose could not get across the border to reach it. These were just a fraction of the people I managed to talk to.

Then there were those directly affected by the war: victims of burns after fleeing blazing homes, open wounds sustained from chemical weapons, amputees left with no treatment and shrapnel-pierced patients.

Not to mention the grave psychological trauma evident in both the children and adults.

One family of seven told me how they had huddled in their bathroom as a plane began to strafe their home. The house was destroyed, except for the bathroom. With no time to contemplate the miracle, they fled immediately.

I noticed a tent busy with people coming and going. Inside was a pharmacist. He showed me his medicine box and told me how he had injected many people suffering with scorpion bites during the night. He said: 'At least I can do something here'.

But the conditions were truly horrifying. He was treating hundreds of patients with a mere thirty boxes of medicine, in what was now his family home.

This was just the tip of the iceberg, just one border out of many. There were more than 4.2 million internally displaced Syrians who had fled some kind of siege, hungry, cold, orphaned, widowed or lost.

Detentions continued daily and the death toll was rising. In one week alone I lost two friends who were tortured to death, and three were detained, which nearly always meant severe torture and possible death.

Syria is my heart and soul. My entire extended family lives there, my nearest and dearest.

It is a beautiful country, full of beautiful people. Its history is most wonderful and rich, particularly its Islamic history.

But I saw no major human rights organisations or humanitarian organisations in the 'safe area' at the border.

Since I was there, Hand in Hand for Syria, has helped to equip a clinic with staff, medicine and power. The charity has also worked on connecting a clean water pipeline from the main village to the border, and has purchased 200 tents, each one housing six to seven people."

To support Hand in Hand for Syria visit:
http://www.handinhandforsyria.org.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/handinhandsforsyria

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