Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The families divided by Syria's civil war


A teenage boy has fled the Syrian civil war without his kidnapped parents - while another mother and father were forced to abandon a son in their own chaotic escape.
These despairing refugee survivors told their stories after emerging from the Bashar al-Assad-led bloodbath tearing apart families just as it divides a nation.
Two 13-year-old boys are among the latest arrivals in neighbouring Lebanon, a country itself suffering not only from an influx of refugees but also increasingly-frequent outbreaks of violence.
Mahmoud Al-Halabi made it across the border on Sunday last week, but without his parents Ahmed and Manal, abducted and missing presumed dead.
While Mahmoud sleeps in a cramped stone garage in border town Wadi Khaled with 15 relatives including an uncle and a grandfather, fellow 13-year-old Ramy Dawwdi lies in a makeshift tent in Akkar.
Ramy competes for sparse space on begged and borrowed rugs with his parents and four siblings - yet without his elder brother Bilal, 15, somehow lost in an panicked escape from Syrian military forces.
Despite their distress, parents Fadi, 40, and 30-year-old Ruba deemed it too late and dangerous to go back - but are now traumatised by the thought of Bilal's fate.
The two families are among up to 1.3million refugees now seeking shelter in Lebanon, while at least 520,000 do so in Jordan, 440,000 in Turkey and 200,000 in Iraq.
The Assad regime's 21-month crackdown on rebel groups plotting to topple his autocratic reign has so far led to at least 100,000 deaths - with aerial bombardment of villages, towns and cities stll only gaining in ferocity.
The plights of the Al-Halabi and Dawwdi families, as well as thousands more, have attracted pledges of help from charities including Save The Children, who this week launch a major new appeal for donations.
The Dawwdi family's district on the outskirts of Homs was set alight by pro-Assad forces invading from a neighbouring area, demolishing with bombs each property in turn during their rampage.
Mr Dawwdi said: 'We were running because of the shelling and he just got lost - to this day, we have no idea what happened to him.'
Ramy, sitting beneath tarpaulins and even scraps of billboard adverts draped over wooden poles, told Metro: 'Because of the chaos when the bombing started, everyone was running in different directions.
'In the end, when we finally felt at a safe distance, about 20 people gathered together and we realised he was missing - we couldn't find him anywhere.'
He could only bow his head in sombre silence when asked how he felt about his missing brother.
Mrs Dawwdi said all her children remained traumatised by the experience, adding: 'Any noise at all can scare them these days. My little girl always wakes up in the night shouting because of her nightmares.'
Similarly sombre was Mahmoud, who described witnessing the slaughter of a family of five just days before his parents went missing - and on the same stretch of road.
He said: 'They went off one day to work in the fields - they went but they didn't come back.
'No one's heard anything of them. This happens a lot.'
Just ten days earlier Mahmoud and his parents had been walking along the same road when they saw a couple and their three children abducted by an armed gang - and later found the bodies stabbed to death and dumped in shallow graves.
He and other family members finally managed to flee the besieged city of Qusair, despite coming under intensive artillery fire while part of a 500-strong group of escapees.
Mahmoud's uncle Fadi Al-Rifaee is also now looking after another six nephews and nieces, whose father was arrested and mother abducted.
He said: 'Before all this, our children were going to school and keeping active.
'Now all they can think about are knives, weapons, killing and death.'

Save the Children

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