Why is the world silent? Syrian refugees speak
By Neil Sammonds, Amnesty International’s Syria researcher
on the Turkish-Syrian border
Little is known of the life of the thousands of Syrians who
have recently fled to Turkey, and are now living in camps in Yayladagi and
Altinozu in the south-east of the country.
Not one civil society activist or journalist is known to
have been able to enter the camps. Knowing that, and with Turkey virtually shut
down for the national elections today, I chose to head for one of the hospitals
in the regional capital Hatay where one can sneak in to talk to injured
By all accounts, the Turkish government and people have
received, hosted and treated an unspecified number of Syrians extremely well.
Officially there are up to 7,000 Syrians now here in Hatay province but many
believe the actual figure is much higher.
There are said to be up to 10,000 within a few kilometres of
the border on the Syrian side, waiting to be able to go back to their homes or
to cross into Turkey if the violence moves further north.
Strangely however, the Turkish government is hiding its
hospitability by denying access to the camps and making it a gamble on getting
in to see Syrians in hospitals.
I entered the hospital, walked past the security guard as if
I was a regular and eventually, in a room with three single beds, I found the
people I had been looking for.
These three Syrian men, all from the Jisr al-Shughur area,
have been wounded in the recent clashes with security forces. I sensed their
unease each time the door opened but they told me their stories.
One of them, a 40-year-old farmer from a village 2km from
Jisr al-Shughur who did not want to give his name for security reasons, had
been shot in the leg by security forces while tending to his land on 4 June.
The army took him to a hospital in the nearby city of Idleb.
A doctor with tears in his eyes told him he was forbidden to
treat him. Security forces took him to a military interrogation office nearby.
He was blindfolded, with hands tied tightly behind his back
and badly beaten with rifle butts and kicks all over his body. The marks are
visible on his face and all over his body.
“While they beat me, they asked me if I belonged to the
Muslim Brotherhood, or if I was on the payroll of [Lebanon’s former Prime
Minister] Saad Hariri,” he told me.
An official went through his mobile phone and made a note of
all the names and numbers on it, and a a high-ranking officer later demanded to
know the names of the people organizing the protest.
After thumbprinting papers he didn’t understand as he is
illiterate, he was released on 7 June and made it across the border to Turkey
the same day.
Despite the volatile situation in his home country, he
insisted that he will go back to Syria. “There’s no more fear,” he added.
The second man in the room, a 31-year-old building worker from
Jebel al-Zawyah, had been shot in the leg by security forces while taking part
in the Friday protests on 3 June.
Thousands of people from neighbouring areas took to the
streets on that day, he said. Security forces were everywhere – on the road,
perched on top of buildings. As the protesters approached a youth camp, the
army suddenly opened fire.
He fell to the ground and security forces dragged him away
to a nearby building.
“They asked me ‘Who is your god?’ ’Allah’ I said. ’No, say
Bashar’ they said. They hit me with a stick on the back of the head and I fell
down and lost consciousness. They must have thought I was dead and left me
among some trees,” he said.
When he came to, the security forces had left and local
people took him to a hospital in Idleb.
Like the farmer I spoke to, he said he was interrogated and
asked for names of other protesters.
After his release, he reached Turkey where his wound has
been treated and he now moves on crutches.
Abu Taha, 29, a Red Crescent ambulance worker from Jisr
al-Shughur, described to me how he was shot in the back by security forces
while attending to an injured person in the centre of the town.
Luckily for him, the bullet passed out on the other side.
On Saturday 4 June, the funeral for Basel al-Masri was held,
he said. The town centre was packed with funeral-goers and around midday,
security forces opened fire on the crowd.
Many were killed and injured, he said, adding that some
people started shooting at the army from the roofs of government buildings.
“It was clear that the snipers were not locals – we all know
each other in my area. They wore plain clothes with grenade belts on their
chests. They have to be from the regime to make it look as if there are armed
groups,“ he said.
Whoever the men shooting at the army were, the consequences
for people in the area have been dire. Abu Taha gave a chilling description of
the fate of some small villages in the area.
He said that on Friday 10 June, a number of tanks arrived in
Kem al-Rumanah, a small village in the border area with only 50 houses.
“The tanks fired at the houses; once they were destroyed,
some 300 shabiha militia soldiers entered. They killed or kidnapped anyone left
behind, stole any possessions they could and burnt crops. They have done this
in several villages,“ he said.
“Does the rest of the world want the end of the Syrian
people? Why is the world silent?” he asked me repeatedly.
Several other Syrians came in and out of the room while I
was there. They all spoke of Syrians being united and peaceful, with only the
regime wanting divisions between communities.