By: Helen Dayem
We sat, eating as the Athan for Magrib was clearly heard in Rihanyi, Turkey, at our table some of the the most decent people I have had the pleasure to meet. One, a doctor, who works non-stop, knows all the borders and where the injured are coming in from Syria, received a call. He glanced at me and then at the others around us, “1,500 refugees have just crossed the border” he said.
We all knew what we had to do; we quickly got our belongings together, and headed for the car.
The young men filled the boot of the car with bottled water until we could fit no more. We then headed to a bakery where we bought all the bread they had! Boxes and boxes of dates were pushed into the spaces between us and
hardly able to move inside the vehicle, we headed off to the direction of the Bab el Hawa border. It wasn’t far. The dirt road was difficult to begin with, but then suddenly the became a little easier. The doctor knew the way well; he told me this entry point is frequently used, not the official border post, but close to it. Syrian cars or mini-buses would bring the families, drop them off the Syrian side, and then they would walk about one kilometer, across rough land, eventually ending up on Turkish soil, and safety, becoming refugees!
Car lights could be clearly seen ahead of us, but nothing could have ever prepared me for what was to come!
It took us awhile to get through. Dozens of Turkish buses, lined up, were waiting to collect the refugees, and after one of our passengers, who knows them well, spoke to the security officers, they allowed us to pass.
There they were, proud Syrians, in the darkness sitting on the ground like ghosts in the darkness. As we drew nearer, I could see their faces, the children, the women and men, whole families, wandering around like lost souls; children crying and hungry, women afraid of what was ahead, and proud men, who had lost everything. This,here and now, there last chance to find safety for their families.
I ran towards them, not knowing what to expect in return, and the first family I found were from Homs. They had paid a driver 200 dollars to bring them to safety through a route considered safer than the correct entrance, where they told me many cars and buses are being shot at, to prevent them from leaving the country.
I hugged and hugged the children..not wanting to let them go, and they clung to me, “Aunty, don’t leave us” they said, as I tried to convince them things will be alright. “Will you visit us?” they asked me, and I promised I would. I told them about the camps, and how they will be safe and looked after well.
After speaking to some families, I realised that they had arrived at 7:00am!! Others at different times, until they had reached this massive number. They had been sitting in the hot sun all day, with no food or water!
When they said they were hungry and thristy, I ran back to the car; they followed me of course! I gave them bread, it was still warm, and water. They hugged me again, and I cried.
The Turkish officer, asked us to move the car to a different position so that, as they filled the buses, we could hand the food and water to them in the buses. He was right, 1,500 people, all hungry and thirsty, and we didn’t have enough food! Of course!
As the buses passed by, we waved them down. They stopped bus by bus; we handed dates, bread and water through the windows, and smiling and waving at the children, they seemed to feel better, but I didn’t. My heart was breaking; I reached through the windows, stroking the children’s faces smiling at the women, I hoped at least, a friendly face would calm their nerves. I think it helped, I hope so.
Glancing back at the sight of the hundreds still sitting on the ground, with nothing but a few belongings, one bus pulled off too quickly causing the boot to fly open and the passengers belongings fall out! We could hear the smashing of glass, someone had carried something for miles, risking their lives, and, now it was broken! Probably something we would think so unimportant, but to someone, maybe a memory of what they had, now smashed and broken. As was my heart tonight!
We needed more food and water. These refugees had a long night ahead of them and a long journey too. They were being taken to a camp many miles away in Orfa, about a six hour drive. Their night had just begun, as they would be taken to be registered, and then would journey to their tents.
We drove off, stopping at another bakery,”Give us all the bread you have.” I smiled as I watched the baker fill bags and bags of hot bread. Once again the car was filling up. He knew, the baker, and he smiled and gave us extra bread for free. He spoke in Turkish, but we could tell he was saying something like, God Damn Bashar!, as he waved us on our way.
More water, dozens and dozens of bottles, filled the boot of the car again.
The guys went back, and then then to the registration center, to make sure these Syrians safely arrived at their new homes, while I came back to my hotel, to write this story that must be told.
The sight of the Syrian people sitting on the ground, waiting for help, will stay with me for the rest of my life. Proud people, brought to the point of begging for help from strangers!!
My last comment: Great respect and thanks to the Turkish government and the Turkish people who, in my opinion, have done more for the Syrians than any Arabic country. May God Damn you to Hell Bashar! for forcing your own citizens to flee, from fear. The terror of these people’s faces wasn’t for what was to come, but from what they had seen in Syria!
Helen Dayem is a Syrian Activist from Homs and mother to the brave Danny Abdul Dayem. Any opinions expressed in the article are those of the author.