Monday, December 21, 2015
I found out husband was dead from TV
Mother-of-three Nermine learnt from a TV bulletin her husband had been executed after being caught trying to escape Syria.
She spent three months being tortured in prison on trumped-up charges.
And she trekked 30km across mountain ranges, along with her three young daughters, to finally escape into Lebanon.
But she says her more sorrowful suffering came when she emerged from the main prison in Syrian capital Damascus for an emotional reunion with her children - only to find they did not recognise her, before scrutinising how she could have 'abandoned' them.
The qualified IT worker was detained by president Bashar al-Assad’s regime, accused of harbouring and nursing rebel fighters.
At the time she was still sorely mourning the apparent killing of her husband, captured with two of her brothers while attempting to cross the border into neighbouring northern Lebanon.
She still clings to vague hopes he may be among those thought to be still alive, in detention, despite TV reports announcing his capture, displaying his photo and telling viewers he had been executed.
Nermine finally made a more successful journey into Lebanon five months ago, crossing the mountains leading from devastated Syrian city Homs into the northern Lebanese region of Akkar.
The arduous trek was especially difficult for her three daughters - Sendos, seven, six-year-old Nourlalhoda and Hibatailah, three - who now live with her an unfinished building in Kweshra.
But they managed to complete the trip. despite the authorities in Lebanon introducing an official ban on any new Syrian arrivals.
That means she and others like her are not only denied the ability to work officially - as is the case for all Syrian refugees in Lebanon - but also refused registration with and benefits from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
And yet these obstacles are not deterring some Syrian refugees left so desperate for relative safety from the persecution and shelling of pro-Assad forces and the Daesh’s ongoijng infilitration of new regions.
Arriving at her new home just days before meeting Metro were her parents-in-law: Mohamed, 65, and his wife Fatima, in her fifties.
They had stayed supportive when Nermine was taken into custody, even attempting to visit her in the Damascus jail but ultimately turned away.
They were ordered to walk away with heads down, snipers’ guns aimed at them ready to fire should they even dare to look up.
Nermine's husband and her two brothers had been caught in a pro-government ambush as they tried to flee Syria.
She said: ‘I assumed they had arrived safely in Lebanon.
‘It was only when people started calling me, saying that they’d seen their pictures on TV, that I learnt what had happened.
‘They were caught in an ambush and shot dead.’
Another two of her brothers have disappeared, presumed kidnapped.
As a former civil servant working for Assad’s government, Nermine had been allowed occasional freedom to travel beyond her Homs village of Zara - but such liberties were swiftly rescinded following her husband’s capture.
And worse was to follow when she was arrested, accused of nursing injured anti-government fighters, and tortured between prison transfers.
Techniques included suspending inmates upside-down from the ceiling, handcuffed or with hands bound behind their backs, and carrying out beatings for up to three days on end.
‘Bodies would turn blue,’ she said.
‘I was hurting all the time - but when I was seeing other people being tortured in other ways, I then thank god I wasn’t the one having that happen at the time.
‘The Damascus jail was the most horrible prison ever. Once entering there, I assumed I’d never be coming out alive.
She was only freed when a judge felt persuaded of her innocence, though did warn she faced rearrest and likely death if ever suspected again.
But while she was in tears when reunited with her children nine months ago, she was distraught by their lack of recognition - and then their pleas to know why she had apparently ‘abandoned’ them for so long.
‘When I got home for the first time, I ran to my children but they didn’t really recognise who I was - that was so difficult for me as their mother.
‘It was more difficult than even being in prison. They didn’t come near, and one asked: Why did you leave us?
‘I couldn’t tell them I was in prison, I claimed I was off looking for our family members who had gone missing.’
She spent another three months in Homs, before deciding to dare an escape across the border - carrying her children as they wandered towards Lebanon for eight hours during daylight, five by night.
‘We were fortunate to get through - but if we were going to die in Syria, we might as well die in Lebanon. We had to take the chance - why not?
‘Zara is a haunted village now - there’s nothing left in it.
‘Even the buildings that aren’t demolished have been taken over by the regime. I’m a refugee here but I’d be a refugee there too. I prefer not to go back - there’s nothing for us to go back to. We could never feel safe.’
She must pay $225 in monthly rent at the sparse flat they found, although charities such as Save The Children have donated blankets, mattresses and wooden timbers.
The agency also does deals with landlords, offering to renovate properties in exchange for refugees having their rental charges waived.
She sold two gold bracelets for $600 but those proceeds are likely to run out soon - restricting her ability to vital supplies such as oil for heating, nappies for her youngest and food and milk.
‘I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m looking for a job. I have a diploma but I don’t have any of my documents. We need more help from the world.
‘There are so many widows with children who can’t generate an income, can’t survive on their own, they have no proper homes.
‘My kids are traumatised like you wouldn’t believe. They’re frightened all the time. Whenever a helicopter passes by, they get scared - if someone’s out shooting birds, they’re terrified.’