Yarmouk refugee camp is home to thousands of Palestinian refugees in Syria. Many of the Palestinian families who fled Palestine still hold keys to their homes, in the hope of returning one day.
After nearly seven decades of exile what now? What will happen next? Such questions are in the mind of the old lady, Om Asim. She fled her home in Palestine when she was only a 12 year old girl. Now again during the summer of 2012 and in her old age, she was forced to flee violence and persecution in the city of Homs to the Yarmouk refugee camp, where she fled after being attacked by Syrian forces. Her house in Homs was destroyed and her keys of the old Palestinian house are lost.
Om Asim narrated her story, “I’m a Palestinian from Homs, we escaped during the middle of the night. I have lost everything; I lost my sons, I lost my husband and all my possessions. I’m a mother of 5 children who have all disappeared now. I also have two daughters who fled with their children to Lebanon, their only hope of survival. I also have 8 grandchildren with whom I have not had any contact since I fled Homs. I don’t know where they are. During our flight from Homs, my husband died of from heart attack. I was unable to hospitalize him. He died in my hands. Now I am all alone in this world.”
On another corner of the Yarmouk Camp, we met Sana, a teacher of Arabic language. She spoke about her flight with tears pouring down her eyes for the loss of her family and husband. “What is the wrong we’ve committed that we have to pay such a heavy price for this war? Our children became a target for the snipers, I lost everyone. My husband, father, brother were killed all at once in one day. Who will compensate me of this great loss? Will they give me money or house? No, I don’t want anything. All I want is my family and husband. I need nothing but to join them!”
We hear similar stories as we tour the camp. We met another old woman called Haja Om Ihsan. Luckily she managed to escape with her life but her sister, who lives at Palestine refugee camp, escaped and took refuge at a nearby school. But later, she returned to her house and was shortly killed along her husband, sons. “I lost them all, I lost those 5 family members.” Stated Om Ihsan
Om Salah is another Palestinian refugee who was totally broken. She lamented that she no longer tastes the happiness of this life. We are not happy even when we are giving birth to new babies. Those babies will be labeled as refugees from birth and their life will be full of problems. “What is their fault that they have to live as refugees?” she said. Om Salah told us how schools became hospitals in order to receive new born babies. “Today, there was an extremely strange incident. One baby was born at this school. His birth coincided with the destruction of his family house in one of the Syrian towns called Al Hajr al Aswad. It was extremely odd for us to hear that following the devastation the father named the child Musiba, which means disaster. This was ofcourse a terrible thing for the child so we protested vehemently until we convinced his dad to re-name him to Rida, which means means content and satisfaction”
Om Sobhi is another woman who tasted the bitterness of the war in Syria. The woman seemed to be exhausted and brning with extreme sadness across her face. When we spoke to her, she was barely able to speak. It was even harder to understand her words. As I assured her and gave her some support; she started to speak. Like many others in the camp, she fled her house along with her sons at midnight. She escaped taking nothing but the clothes she was wearing while her city, Al Hajr al Aswad, was being heavily shelled.
I listened to her intently , “We were terrified, and we hurried and escaped as death was chasing us from all sides. In fact, we didn’t know if we were running towards death or escaping from it. Thankfully, we managed to escape and survive. Later, I wanted to bring essentials from my house but my son Nafiz, 17, persisted on going alone and instead of me. I tried to prevent him but I failed.
Frantically I looked for him everywhere but did not find him. Later, my brother in law was visiting Palestine hospital and saw a mob gathering. He looked closer and was horrified after seeing Nafiz was killed. He was covered with blood. My brother in law phoned and told me about what he saw. I came to attend his burial. He was buried with a number of martyrs in a paupers grave. I said farewell to Nafiz and my heart was buried with him”.
According to Nafi’z mother. A friend of her son who survived death came and narrated how Nafiz was killed. “ A group of us friends, went to Al Hajr al Aswad area. All of the friend including Naifz entered the neighborhood then each went to their houses. Nafiz entered his house and found everything destroyed. He tried to take a few of his family’s belongings and returned to the group. As we tried to leave, we faced heavy shooting. Nafiz was shot in the leg, as he tried to walk, he was shot in the back. He tried to walk again and then he was shot in the head”.
We continue to listen to more stories within this school. It seems everyone has a story to tell, no matter the age or gender.
We met Hasan, a young boy who survived death in Alqadam area in Damascus. Bombing was very heavy in the area. Hasan’s mother tried to protect him and his sister. As bombing and shooting intensified, the mother tried to find a safe haven for her kids. She covered her daughter and son with her body. She asked them if they are safe or not. The mother died as she tried to protect her children.
Journal of Palestinian Refugee Studies, Valume 2, Issue 2, Autumn 2012