First Person

Crossing a border, with children in tow

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In honor of World Refugee Day last week, we’re sharing stories of refugees from Syria, where an escalating crisis has forced millions to flee their homes.

Amany Mohammad with her two sons. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam
Amany Mohammad with her two sons. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

Amany Mohammad, 27, is the mother of five small children. Her family now lives in an abandoned shopping center in Qalamoun, Lebanon. Below is her account of how they came to be refugees, as told to Oxfam’s Jane Beesley.

We lived in a small studio apartment [in Syria]. When it was bombed all that was left standing was the kitchen.

I was in a shelter underground when it was bombed. I lived near my parents-in-law and we were all sheltering there. When I saw my home I cried my eyes out because we couldn’t afford to build anything else and there was nothing we could do about it. I called husband to tell him. He was here in Lebanon [working in construction to support the family]. Then we moved to another place where there was no network and I couldn’t contact him. It was really awful not being able to speak to him and he didn’t know where we were. At first we were OK there, but then the bombing started and we had to move on without my husband knowing.

When we finally got to a place I could ring him I told him we were coming to Lebanon. We came here on a bus. There were a lot of checkpoints. I was very scared. It was the first time I’d traveled out of my hometown, never mind Syria.

“There was no one to help me.”

The hardest part of the journey was when I had to submit our papers to the Syrian soldiers at the final checkpoint. I had to take all my children, and they are all small, to see the soldiers. There was no one to help me. I was holding Abdullah [her 5-year-old son, who is disabled] and the baby, while the other three held onto my dress. It was very hard, especially as no one knew each other on the bus and everyone was very scared and trying to take care of their own family.

We were traveling through the night and arrived at the border at 4 a.m. For a woman to leave Syria she has to have a permit from her husband. I had no permit as my husband was in Lebanon. They kept asking me, “Where’s your husband? Where’s your husband?” I was too scared to tell them he was already in Lebanon and said he was in Syria. My cousin had written a letter like a permit but they wouldn’t accept it. I was really frightened that they wouldn’t let us cross the border and then a driver convinced them and we were able to cross. We were there for three or four hours. At the Lebanese checkpoint there were no problems. It was very easy and smooth.

Then we got to Beirut and met my husband. I hadn’t seen him since I was one month pregnant. It was very emotional because he’d not seen the baby.

About 100 refugee families from Syria are now living in this abandoned shopping center in Lebanon. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam
About 100 refugee families from Syria are now living in this abandoned shopping center in Lebanon. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

My husband had some relatives staying here so he contacted them and we came here. There are brown stains down the walls. Water leaks down the walls after the water tanks on the roof have been filled and when the people upstairs wash their floors.  …

This room is a thousand times better than living on the streets. The stain on the wall can be cleaned. I have no plans for the future because we can’t predict what will happen. Maybe we will be able to find a better place and move out.

I think Syria will never be the old Syria again. Even so I’d like to go to Syria. It is our home.

Oxfam is in Jordan and Lebanon right now, delivering essential supplies and services to children and families who have fled the violence in Syria—and we urgently need your help. Make a donation now to support Amany and other refugees. Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+