Hand-in-hand through the darkness

Published: 12 March 2014 16:57 CET

Penny Sims/British Red Cross

“This is where they shot, right here!” Fatima, an elderly, blind grandmother spreads her hands in front of her face and indicates a space in the air close to her right hand. She had knelt down to pray in her home in Syria when a bullet came in through in the window and struck the ground literally an inch from her hand.

Fatima’s apartment in Homs was on a street which had the misfortune to become the frontline of a long-running battle between two factions. While her daughters were able to risk leaving the house during the few brief hours of supposed ceasefire in the mornings, Fatima wasn’t able to go out. She became a prisoner in her own home, and even there she was no longer safe.

Her daughter Sabeen explains what life was like: “In Homs, the situation got worse and worse. There was a lot of bombing. Our house was right in the middle between two fighting groups, so it was very dangerous. There was daily bombing and you couldn’t move about very easily. One group said people could go out between 9am - 12pm, and that was it, no-one was allowed to go out after 12pm.” However, even during these times of ‘ceasefire’ it was dangerous. “There is no limit really on bombing or shooting,” Sabeen says.

“No-one could work. There is no life like this. You are just staying in the house. Most men in the area were fighting.”

Fatima’s four daughters all used to have jobs in Homs – working in a grocery store, making clothes, working in an exercise equipment shop – but normal life became impossible once the fighting started. After their mother was shot at the family, together with Fatima’s three grandchildren, decided to move. They set up home in a safer street inside a disused shop. They tried to make a home there with nothing – the shop was empty, and they had left their home in terror with only the clothes they were wearing. But even this new location couldn’t keep them safe and they were bombed again.

In response, they decided to try and cross the border into Jordan.

It took many attempts over a period of ten days to cross the border. One night when they tried to cross they saw a helicopter overhead. They were part of a convoy of five cars, and their car was shot at by the helicopter and they turned back.

They eventually made it to the border on foot, with no papers or belongings. Sabeen held her mother’s hand the whole way, and it was slow going. Fatima was full of fear, crying and scared. She could hear things but couldn’t see if the family were in danger or from what source.

It was a terrifying experience for her.

Despite this, Fatima retains a positive outlook and is thankful to have reached the safety of Jordan. “God helps me to continue life and be patient. I thank God that I am still here,” she says.

The family is being helped by the Jordan National Red Crescent Society’s cash transfer programme. They receive money via an ATM card and have also received a one-off amount which they used to purchase a heater, which makes a huge difference to their apartment. In the room with the heater, it is cosy. The one other room is damp and bitterly cold.

Back in Syria they would have had all their winter things – proper clothing, blankets, heaters, coats – but becoming a refugee robs you of all your good planning and your winter preparations.

If the conflict ends, they would all like to go home. “Even if we are living in a tent, we would live there, because we just want to go home.”