Voices: Through Isis territory and airstrikes: How I escaped Syria with my family

·4-min read
When things get really hard, I remind myself that I got my kids to safety (AFP via Getty Images)
When things get really hard, I remind myself that I got my kids to safety (AFP via Getty Images)

The Syrian war came to my village in 2012, but it wasn’t until 2016, after four years of living under constant violence and with death all around us, that my family decided to leave.

In the days before, I was so anxious I couldn’t sleep – my mind was rushing from one scenario to another, imagining everything that could go wrong. When we said goodbye to my parents, I felt terrible guilt that I was leaving them behind. It was the hardest goodbye of my life.

We had to cross through Isis territory to reach the border. I was terrified that something would happen to my wife and children. I tried to keep my children distracted – luckily they didn’t understand the danger we were in. We passed many empty and ruined villages on the way. I thought of all the life that had been there and the ghosts that were the only residents now.

After hours of travelling, we finally reached the first checkpoint. My initial relief vanished when the soldiers asked us to return to where we came from. I started to panic – how would I get my family to safety? Then they said they were joking and laughed. We had travelled for hours through dangerous areas and after all that, someone would make a joke like this? I couldn’t believe it.

At the next checkpoint, I was separated from my family. The soldiers saw that I had come from a place controlled by Isis and took me aside for questioning. I was nervous, not for myself but for my family. What if I was detained? How would they get to safety? Fortunately, after some hours they let me go. I found my wife and two girls sleeping under a tree. My son was very thirsty and bored after all the travelling. We were all so exhausted.

The area we had arrived at in northern Syria was considered safe, but when we got there, more than five airstrikes hit. One landed only 50 metres from where we were staying. We had to move again to find safety. My kids were terrified and asking lots of questions. Where are we going? Why don’t we have our own house? Why can’t we play? They wanted things that all kids want but we could not give them anything. My wife and I tried to comfort them and keep them shielded from what was happening around us. We kept saying that things would be better soon but I am not sure we believed it ourselves.

One night, news about a coup in Turkey started to spread widely. I started to panic and felt terrible grief and helplessness. What would this mean for my family? What would it mean for all the Syrians who sought refuge in Turkey? My wife tried to calm me down, but I couldn’t sleep that night. The next day we heard that the coup had failed. I was relieved. It meant my family might still be able to cross to safety.

After over a month, my family’s application to cross the border was finally approved. It was a moment of happiness, but when I said goodbye at the border I could not hold back my tears. I was happy that they would be safe, but I also felt so lonely. I didn’t know when I would see them again. I didn’t know how I would continue to manage without my wife’s support and seeing my children.

To keep up to speed with all the latest opinions and comment, sign up to our free weekly Voices Dispatches newsletter by clicking here

After a month, I was able to cross to Turkey legally too. I received a referral for medical treatment and I was reunited with my family. Around a year later, I managed to bring my parents to Turkey and take care of them. It felt like a great weight had been lifted off my chest.

I am telling my story in SADA because everywhere I look, refugees are vilified – in Turkey (where I am) and all over Europe. Even the most basic protection – the right to seek asylum – is under threat. We did not plan this life. I left because I feared for the lives of my children. Nothing else mattered.

When things get really hard, I remind myself that I got my kids to safety. But the scars remain. Sometimes my kids remember the journey, especially my son who is our oldest, and it reminds me of the fear, pain and hopelessness we all felt. We talk and try to make sense of what happened. I feel that they are the strongest kids in the world. They went through a nightmare but continue to shine every day.

Yasser’s story is shared in SADA – a project telling stories of the emotional challenges of displacement, told by refugees, launched by Amna

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting