The babies of Syria

Premature birth is naturally on the rise in Syria and the surrounding regions. Mothers are put under extreme stress due to the war & trauma they endure,  it is also known that pregnant mothers are being targeted for fun by snipers.

Medical care in Syria is a difficulty to find as it is, when you need care for a premature baby or child in need who requires special care it is virtually the impossible.

A lot of babies are born with birth defects due to the lack of care and lack of nutrition available through pregnancy & after birth support.

I have met with several pregnant mothers to be in Syria and the surrounding regions who have had problems through their pregnancy, and many who have endured early labour due to injuries sustained, severe stress & lack of care through their pregnancy.
Many mothers have had to move place to place within Syria for safety through their pregnancy once their area has fallen to the hands of the war.

One lady I met with was 26 years old; she had been pregnant with her first child. Her husband and her wished to have their baby in Syria, their home country, and were planning to move to Lebanon after the birth when the child was in a stable position to be moved out of the country. They prayed for safety daily for their child to have a good future, they had been blessed for months without the war coming close to them. They both knew it was not an ideal time to have a baby, but after years of marriage & trying for a child for those years; they were blessed with a pregnancy.
There was an attack on their village and the mother was badly injured, causing injury to her baby while in her 3rd trimester. She was rushed to the nearest place that was a make shift hospital. They had to operate and perform an emergency caesarean section to try to save her baby. Sadly the baby had passed away from injuries sustained which were clearly visible on her baby girl’s body. The mother survived and is still recovering from injuries; however, she now has to recover from the loss of her baby and her husband who passed away on that same day she lost her baby. Her husband had tried to protect her as their building crumbled upon them. Nobody in her family had been linked to either side of the war and no members of her family were fighting in rebel groups, or the Syrian Army. They were civilians trying to live their life.

This story is not uncommon now in Syria. The immensity of the tragedy the people of Syria are facing is an overwhelming despair. There has been a long list of mothers I have met with; stories unbearable to hear, and many who lost their baby because they went into early labour and the care was not available to them for their baby to survive. These mothers are then carrying a heavy weight of guilt within and they too are not getting the assistance they need to deal with the trauma of losing their child.

Photographer-YasminAlTellawy - Syrian refugees

Born in Syria and moved to Jordan just after birth. Now residing in Zaatari refugee camp.

For the Syrian mothers who have managed to flee to country to seek safety in a neighbouring country, the tragedy continues as they try to seek care for their babies, or through their pregnancy.
In the largest camp for Syrian refugees based in Jordan; Zaatari has a plethora of Syrian mothers complaining that they can only get baby milk up to 7 months old in the camp, the doctors tell them to feed their babies on rice thereafter they share with me. In Syria, mothers would feed their babies up to 2 years old on baby milk for a healthy life. These mothers cannot afford to buy the baby milk for their children even though it is widely available for sale on Market Street or Champs-Élysées as it is known.

Photographer-Yasmin Al Tellawy - Zaatari - Syrian Refugees

Syrian baby sleeps as his father and mother work in the Zaatari refugee camp.

I first met the father of this baby in March 2013 working in his store in Market Street in Zaatari. On a recent visit back there I asked for his baby girl and wife, he shared his baby girl had to go back to Syria recently to get medical treatment as she was very sick. Naturally it was a shock what I was hearing, ‘You would send your baby to Syria for medical treatment?’ I questioned. He explained he tried to get medical help in the camp but couldn’t, outside of the camp was too expensive and they could not afford the doctors, so with that his wife and baby went back to Syria to try to get medical treatment, he had to stay to work in their store as they need the money like every other Syrian now. He was deeply worried about them but said what could he do, nobody could treat his daughter in Jordan.

Photographer -Yasmin Al Tellawy - Jordan refugees

In the depths of the Jordan Valley, a Syrian baby who fled Syria just after birth sleeps while his parents worry about schooling for their other children who suffer disabilities

It is just one story of not only the people of Syria struggling so much outside of the country, but also shows just what it is like living in a country foreign to theirs and foreign to what they know. While most people across the west think the Middle East is just one large area that is the same; each country is completely different. Syrians are indeed in a foreign country whether it is Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan or Egypt and the struggle continues for them no matter where they go.

Prematurity is being targeted in a small way by some organisations. It needs a lot more attention as it is on the rise and it will be a long term issue in the country and surrounding.

Dealing with a preterm birth is one of the toughest struggles a mother can face, especially when the baby is in need of special care from a neonatal unit. Their baby will not survive without neonatal care, and if they do they will be facing lifelong severe health problems without the care required.

Being a Syrian baby right now is a battle for life whether they are born a healthy baby, or if they are born premature. Either way they will have to battle for survival, however preterm babies have to fight even harder for that survival.

Sadly there are many babies who have been born who will never have a chance to meet their father or their mother, or in some cases will never have a chance to meet either parent and will only have a tragic tale of survival as their childhood memories.

What Happened to Love?

I’m talking about love, not that word that is thrown around on a daily basis holding no depth, that emotion that few lucky people get to experience in entirety in our world. We have love of many forms in our world, but I am talking about that once in a lifetime bond with another, that special something that connects us and give us pure safety in every ounce of our being.

Across the world, no matter where I go, love is missing. Cheating, deceit lies and more on top of that are the way of life, and what has become a normal in society tragically.

What happened to respecting your body, your soul, your heart? What happened that these hold no value; in my lifetime I have never known it to hold value.

Are we so afraid to jump so big and chase a dream emotion with someone who tickles our heart, or are we lonely beings as humans that just crave any human contact instead of dealing with our inner insecurities that bring us comfort to be alone and wait for something that special?

As I travel, I look around and get inundated with emotionally draining & heart wrenching life stories, I rarely hear a true love story, and when I do I cling to it.

I recently met a couple who have in total waited 14 years to be with one another. I have never seen such smiles and joy as I did at their wedding. It has moved me so deeply, through tragedy and struggle for over 10 years; this couple fought for love against all the odds and now have that special bond with no regrets of waiting for one another, it has touched me so much that this family is part of an upcoming film I am making now.

If I told you the full story you would be in tears. This is what saddens me; we are so touched by great love stories because they are that rare and we as humans in our world have made them that rare.

People have always thought I am an odd girl, chasing dreams, chasing a fantasy of once in a lifetime love, yet I confront and deal with the worst human crisis in our world, the older I grow and especially with my work surrounded by such tragedy frequently, I only stand stronger to my beliefs and morals on these matters, of which I am proud of. We have nothing if we do not have love I feel.

Young people cry to me over mistakes they have made, older people cry to me over mistakes they have made, stories of in one weekend they were in love, slept with the person and it was over that following week. This is the societies we live in sadly, but it seems not enough fight against this, people complain they want more and that once in a lifetime feeling but they don’t live by it, they don’t respect their body and soul.

I want to say to any female or male feeling insecure, feeling lonely, feeling lost and craving love that it is ok. All comes to those who wait, all comes when the time is right and that is the fact of it. Once day you will have someone special in your life, one day you will have it all so wait, wait for someone special and respect yourself.

Don’t live in lies; don’t live being who you are not. Don’t drag someone else into your mess if you cannot give them honesty, find yourself and do this alone without harming another with false promises of emotions, and don’t turn to resentment if you have been lied upon and do this to another.

If you think you are happy sleeping around, I can promise you that you are not. You may not know that now but one day you will find that and end up in regrets. If you think sex is happiness in your life then you are not living. We all have desires, we all crave physical contact, but we all crave most of all to wake up next to another who truly cares for us.

We don’t want to be alone on our death-bed, yet so many are, and so many lead a life leading to this. We want to feel butterflies when someone says our name, we want to know someone cares for us so deeply they live their life for us and they don’t even have to say it. We all want to have someone next to us we are so enamoured by as we fall asleep. We all want to laugh, cry, and be held when times are tough. We wat to plan trips with that partner who understands us and loves us for us through the good and bad in us, we all want true passion in every form of it, we all want a partner in the true meaning of it, and no matter what country I go to this is the missing key to life that everyone craves.

I work in cultures sometimes where this bond is not allowed to grow. I meet people so trapped by their religion that they are pushed into marriages unhappily. I meet people who live by stories I can tell them of emotions and love and life and it breaks my heart they have to live through someone else to feel anything because they are not granted the freedom to feel.
Then I look at Western cultureS and feel so sickened that they are granted all the freedom in the world and it is abused so greatly with lack of self respect, sex with people whose names are forgotten soon thereafter, and I just feel so saddened at the missing links across the world.

Live well, live true and respect yourself. I talk frequently with youth and teenagers and have over the years, and many have come back to me a little more grown up saying they wish they didn’t conform to society and pressures they had felt to sleep around and not love themselves. People try to tell you that you can’t be alone and just meet someone nice and good to you, no, wait for love I say, true love and when it comes it will hit you so hard that you won’t be able to run from it no matter what you try.

Love yourself, love your being. Don’t try to compensate for love, wait for that special feeling, love will come and it will be worth waiting for in every way. If you live in a culture where you are allowed to explore feelings of your own be so thankful, if you are in a culture where you are trapped from having self-expression of emotions then my heart cries for you, all the people I have met and all the love stories I have had shared to me, it breaks my heart how much love is disrespected.

If you have that special feeling for someone then jump big against all the odds. If someone is on your mind continually hold no fear in declaring it regardless of what may come back in return. Share your love, share your feelings and care nothing for what another thinks. Be love and if you are now happily married or getting there because true love has come your way then you have my every congratulations and advice to never let it go and even through the hard times, remember they only make you stronger together and never give up. If something is easy in life it is not worth a dime.

If you once thought you had love but it is gone, it is ok, it wasn’t the real thing, and if it was it will come back, in the meantime brush yourself off, remember you again, never forget your worth. You live, you learn and something better is always awaiting you. Most of all, don’t let it change you, learn what you do not want to be from a bad experience only.

Our world is missing love in many ways. Be a part of a world where love exists in every form, from your personal life to the love of humanity, spread love, and respect that word with what it truly means. Our life is so precious, love is so precious, and truly could be taken from us tomorrow, live for love.

Child Labour – the Future for Syrian Children.

Children of Syria have been forced to leave their childhood behind, they now have to be adults, many having to work at young ages to help provide for their family after having come through many graphic visions of war.

12-year-old Muhammad shown in this short video clip has had to work to help provide for his family. His days begin at 6.30am as he leaves for work, and arrives home around 7.30pm when he works the day shift, he mostly works the night shift now leaving for work at 6.30pm, arriving home the next morning. This is his second job in a restaurant and it has better conditions than the first. He works 7 days a week.

The strain of work shows clearly in his personality. He works all day for 5 Jordanian Dinars (Approximately 7 US dollars), 1 JD of this having to go towards his journey back and forth to work. Exhausted after work, he has little to say.

Muhammad does not attend school,  nor can he as his family need the money from his work. An average size family can cost between 10-15 JD a day for food, and this is a basic vegetarian diet.

Fawaz Mazrahawi of the Islamic Society Centre Charity in Jordan says “We have recorded over 1700 cases of child labour and are running a program with UNICEF to assist these children back to school while providing the families the help they need.”
The Islamic Society Centre Charity have many branches across Jordan assisting the many families in need as much as they can. They feel that child labour is a big problem in Jordan and believe it is going to be a rapidly rising issue.

Muhammad lives in a Palestinian camp area of Amman after having to flee his home in Homs. Palestinians in Jordan, of which their are 2 million registered, are now guiding Syrians through struggles as refugees as they now follow the steps the Palestinians went through first fleeing to Jordan. For many Palestinians in this area, a daily struggle for food has become a norm to their life after many years as refugees. Many Syrians and Palestinians living in this area share their food when dinner time arrives.

Muhammad, a young boy who once enjoyed playing football and other games children enjoy with their friends, now lives with those past times being a long distant memory as he travels to work to earn a small amount of money that is not even enough to feed his family for the day.

This is becoming a frequent occurrence with Syrian refugees. Their options are limited and their daily thought can only be for survival. Dreams and future plans hold no meanings to their life anymore. The fact is, many Syrian refugees are living in complete poverty, how to feed their kids is a worry every morning as they wake.

Jordan Valley, Syrian Refugees, Photography - Yasmin Al Tellawy

A Syrian family from Hama, now living in the Jordan Valley. He was a farmer in Syria, and is able to live and work on the farm with his family for free rent.

In the Jordan Valley children are known to be working on the farms to earn money. In the summer time in Jordan, most move to other areas to work as they are not accustomed to the heat of the valley’s, while Syrians who were once farmers in Syria have been able to adjust and are able to continue a life they had in Syria in Jordan.

Some business owners are fully exploiting the situation of Syria refugees by paying them little and making them work long hours, while others feel proud they are giving Syrians work regardless of their age as they feel at least they are helping them with a way to provide some money for those in need.

Photography - Yasmin Al Tellawy

One of the children in Zaatari refugee camp who offers a food taxi service around the camp to earn money.

In Zaatari refugee camp, a child can be seen in most directions you look pushing a wheelbarrow – a business earning them around 1000-1500 Syrian pounds (Approximately 7-11 US dollars) per day delivering food supplies from Market street, or anything else required to families. The children I spoke to in Zaatari were happy doing this and earning money for their family.

While many are happy to be working at young ages, and many would have been working at young ages in their villages back in Syria, there are many who are having to turn to work, abandoning education, to try to help their family and this would have been far from their lifestyle in Syria.

With the increasing number of Syrians having to flee their war torn country, child labour within the refugees is yet another problem on the long list of issues they have to deal with.

(Muhammad has been used in place of the real name for safety reasons)

Homeless, Scared & Alone as a Young Syrian tries to live in Istanbul

The war in Syria continues to rage on with no sign of an end in the near future. Young Syrians are feeling the pressure to work and provide for their families. If you have not turned to working within the war in Syria in some way, then you are left out in the cold when it comes to finances.

My phone rings; a shaky distressed voice I couldn’t recognise was of what sounded like a very scared young boy. It turned out to be a boy I did know. His family had taken me in to stay a few times while working in the north of Syria. In particularly, they took care of me at a time that could have brought great danger to their family while helping me through a troublesome situation.
His words of confusion and sheer distress were apparent that he was in a bad situation and didn’t know what to do. He had managed to get to an internet café, asked to use the internet to find my details which led him to asking to use anyone’s phone to make contact to me.

He had left to Istanbul a month prior to contacting me. His father gave him what money he could to help him get to Istanbul. Many Syrians see Istanbul as a gateway for work and a means to provide for their family. The reality of earning a living in Turkey turns out to be a mere fantasy for most.

I asked him why did he go, knowing he was unfamiliar with the world outside of Syria, a gentle young boy, and had dived in the deep end as many have and continue to do, he said “I need to feed my family, tell me what can I do?”

Having never left Syria alone before, his journey began. After a long bus ride from Hatay, he was in Istanbul and had found work in a factory. Along with many other Syrians, work days being at least 14 hours, he laboured alongside those who also sought a better future for themselves and their loved ones. 22 days later, he was thrown out of the factory where he stayed & worked, along with 20 other Syrians, some who had worked for 2 months and more to find themselves on the streets. They were told they were no longer needed for work; when asked for their money they had worked hard for, they were laughed at as the door slammed on their face.

Factory in Istanbul

The factory entrance where Syrians have been used for work, including Muhammad

21 young men were now sleeping on the street in an area of Istanbul that nobody would desire to be, surrounded by drug dealers, heroin addicts and the typical characters one would expect in such a neighbourhood.
Nobody offered them help, this young man was deeply disturbed by this he shared with me as he only knew his culture and ways of living; They would go out and feed the homeless on the streets, they would take people in to sleep under their roof in their family home anytime another was in need with no questions asked, he grew up in a family where they would leave themselves poor just to feed another in greater need. He couldn’t understand why not one person over the days on the street would stop to help them.

Muhammad found himself on the streets hungry without a penny to his name, feeling ashamed for being in a position where he was unable to feed himself, let alone help his family in need. Some men around him resorted to stealing food in hunger, but this young man refused to turn to such activities. He sold a small bag with some clothing, his only belongings he had just for a little money for food, which he shared with the other men.

PhotoYasminAlTellawy

This is where Muhammad called home while he slept on the streets

With a little help from great friends I have been blessed to encounter through my life, he was taken in right away to a safe place where he was cared for until I could finish up some work and get to Istanbul.

He was always a very skinny young man as I recalled when I last saw him in Aleppo, but this time when I saw him, he was a bag of bones & as white as a ghost. A smile was something he had long-lost the mean of, even in seeing me again he couldn’t break a smile, only tears with exhaustion, fear and relief of seeing someone he felt he could trust were all he could express.

He had taken to me as a big sister when I stayed with his family.  His mother had many sons, and always wished for a daughter she would tell me, I came along and she saw me as a daughter, she didn’t know why, nor I, but we felt a strong connection to one another. She cared for me in every way she could think of, forcing me to wash as I would try to refuse to not use their limited water, even though I was absolutely filthy from weeks without a proper wash.

Muhammad’s mother is one of the kindest, loving souls I could ever have met in my life. I loved just watching her with her gentle smiles, soft-spoken loving words & tender-hearted touch. I felt in many ways I owed this family my life as they done more than the usual family had done for me inside Syria.

To date, the family are long over a year without electricity in their village. We would laugh together at night as we would fill the lamp with diesel for light, with chats in hope the next day we might have water. One of the young boys would come back after a long time trying to get bread only to return empty-handed. We would giggle in the morning as I awoke battered & bruised as one of the young boys had taken to kicking through his wrestles sleep; and I had refused to listen to his mother’s warning to say no when he asked if he could sleep next to me; I then understood why.
We would watch helicopters drop bombs all around always on edge that it would be us next, while the young boys would pull out their school books telling me how they missed school wishing for me to teach them English. Still, there would be laughter and love, this lady had such a pure heart and I will never forget her tears as she hugged me so tightly worrying for me as I had to say goodbye.

Muhammad felt safe now with me. We spent hours talking; he shared every detail of his horror story. He had 2 choices, to stay and try to work in Istanbul again or go home to Syria.
I took him to the good area of Istanbul, the one we all know with beauty and wonder all around. Sights he had never seen, only dreamed to see in life, I told him to take a few days and relax, I gave him a holiday and told him he was safe.

I took him out to eat and I couldn’t work out why he wouldn’t eat, surely he must have been hungry, sleeping on the streets for days, but he wouldn’t really eat. I was not only a sister figure to him but also a mother figure for the young man, so I had to play mother goose and force him to eat. He finally told me why he wouldn’t eat; he felt embarrassed because he didn’t know how to use a knife and fork. Something I took as a given. While this is far from all of Syria as most do know how to use cutlery, he had always been in a small village and eaten in tradition ways with bread being the fork as such. He felt shy to tell me as he didn’t want to feel stupid; it was the cutest thing to me though. I shared with him for me the first time travelling to villages in the middle of nowhere in the Middle East and when I had to first sit down and use bread as my way to catch food and how I made a fool of myself trying to eat like the others, he giggled and didn’t feel so bad then. It was pizza and chips on the menu for the duration of his time with me while he tried to learn through me how to use cutlery. Even pizza was a first for him to try.

Muhammad is an extremely intelligent young boy, his English is incredibly good, but he had just never had a chance to be outside of his village. Very well educated as were his brothers, I always wondered what great things men like him could do if they had to opportunities we in the West take for granted so often.

I took him to beautiful sights that were wondrous to him as I watched magic in his eyes to see everything. I took him for long walks with beautiful surroundings and let him share all he needed. As we walked by the Bosporus, I asked him if he enjoyed swimming… he said he had never even seen the sea before. Next thing he knew he was sitting on a boat for the first time. It gave him such peace, such a sense of calm able to share to me all his problems & thoughts.

Boat trip - Istanbul

Muhammad seeing the ocean and having a boat trip for the first time

He met friends of mine, good people; including a very kind lady we had dinner with who gave him some money to help him and his family. He would ask me in confusion and tears why she would do that as I explained some people are just kind in life truly and to not judge from his back experience.

He was deeply shy from me having come to help him and spending on him. Some members of his own family had made him feel ashamed of failing as they saw it.

He wished to study in life to have a good future to take care of his family, to someday have his own, but he knew Istanbul was not going to be as financially fruitful as some members in his family believed. He would go back to Syria for Eid and think of what options he may have for a better future.

For the first time he was boarding a plane with me. A sad moment for him as he feared what would be waiting for him as he went home. He glared out of the window as the sun lit up the sky welcoming in the morning over the clouds. He told me how beautiful it was, how beautiful everything was he got to see with me and how thankful he was. I knew he was suffering from severe stress, so I made him take an extra day to rest and try to sleep before he had to go back home as we arrived in Antakya.

His father had always been a difficult character in his life. When his father would come into a room while I was staying all laughter would end, only silence dared to fill the air. He was a kind man to me, but I could always see the fear in the family’s eyes when he was around. Muhammad’s mother would joke with me about running away to France with me.

Members in his family told him they would not be able to collect him at the border. A very young man, in a war zone, needing to venture through what was a highly dangerous of raging battles, and he was to be left alone by his family. Devastated I assured him it would all be ok.
His brother who he is closest to was without phone to be able to contact him who would have of course helped him.

Muhammad got back to his family home safely, however is feeling severe pressure to provide for his family as he sees the situation for his loved ones deteriorated greatly to what he had last saw. He struggles in confusion on how he can provide for his mother and young brothers.

Tears as we said goodbye, with a giggle beneath his tears as he said ‘Peace and Love’ waving me farewell; something he had heard me saying too often and learned fast this was my only motto for life.
He gave me the greatest gift of all, the blessing of being able to help another soul in need, the gift of being able to share peace & love. This gift is the most valuable of all in our world.

He left with a long list of first times to reminisce over from his time with me & a photo album of his journey. He saw for the first time the beauty of waves crashing under the suns glimmer, first time to try strawberry ice-cream, pizza, and various foreign foods. He has his first flight with me, first time to stay at a hotel. He also had many firsts of negativity including sleeping in a factory, slave labour, sleeping on the streets, & learning what a heroin addict looked like and how they use the drug, along with street prostitution as he asked me in confusion about things he saw from his innocence.

Most importantly, he left his time with me having had too many laughs by the end, smiles, and visions of beauty through sharing love in our world, he had hopes and dreams he had buried for 2 years were coming alive again. His faith in humanity and his fight through this life enabled within again.

The other young men who were used for work, mostly returned back to Syria, a few continue to work elsewhere in Istanbul for minimal money.

A 26-year-old was now a father for 2 young children after his brother was killed in Syria. It was now his responsibility to provide for these 2 children his brother sadly left behind. All the young men shared an equally tragic story of how they ended to being on the streets of Istanbul. Each of them, as with many young men wanted a future, a life; they were wise in many ways. They all shared the same issues however of pressure in Syria to fight when they did not want to. All of them being teased for being cowards as others would call them for not fighting.

A bleak future of struggle and severe hardship is the only one ahead for most Syrians nowadays. The men of Syria possibly facing the greatest difficulties if they choose a life not destined for fighting. The man in the Middle East must be just that, a ‘man’, he is deemed as weak for shedding a tear, he must care for many others in his family, and he holds such great responsibilities at a young age.

Syrians across the world are feeling suffering at this point. Few families left untouched from tragedy that war brings. Syrians across the world exhausted financially from assisting their loved ones and fellow Syrians. Young men feeling great pressures as the war intensifies, many have a sense of suicidal wishes choosing to just fight from pressure as death seems the only option now for them as opportunities for a future are becoming fewer by the day.

The men of Syria have little focus on their troubles. Many focus only on women and children suffering; the men are struggling greatly also. The men are suffering severe torture with sexual violence as a form of humiliation. The men are suffering pressures from every direction. The men are left alone without a support network that women are able to reach out for. Not every man in Syria is fighting; many are fleeing their days of being a fighter due to the changing situation in Syria with outside groups taking over areas in Syria.

Countless Syrians are finding themselves abused for work in Istanbul and elsewhere. With little support available for the men of Syria, it seems their life is only destined for one of hardship and severe struggle as they try to support their loved ones.

Sadly this story is not a one-off. I have had many Syrians contact me regarding abuse like this. I met with many Syrians in different areas of Istanbul, who all had tragic tales of struggle as they attempted to assist their loved ones.

(‘Muhammad’ has been used in place of the real name)

Desolation in Refuge for Syrians

Photographer-YasminAlTellawy

Zaatari Refugee Camp, Jordan

Millions of Syrians have been struggling for survival daily for over 2 years. With no sight to an end of the war in Syria, the struggles continue within Syria and in the surrounding neighbouring countries who have been welcoming those who seek refuge.

Men, women & children are fleeing Syria by the thousands daily, however the life they can be entering is off extreme hardships in their host countries.

Lack of funding is already giving great pressures to the humanitarian agencies assisting the vast amount of people in need. Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt & Iraq have become the new homes to Syrians seeking safety, but safety is not something they are always receiving.

Robbed of their homes, jobs, belongings and loved ones from the war in Syria, predominantly unable to get work in their host countries, not enough help for them & their at times large families, many Syrians are find themselves with no choice but to enter into a path shame selling themselves.

I meet women with young children, who have lost their husbands & other loved ones in the war, who feel they have no choice but to sell their body for money. They have hungry children to feed & higher priced rent than normal to maintain if they are not within a refugee camp and they feel completely alone and terrified.

While prostitution is no stranger to any country or religion, it is becoming much too common within the refugee communities of Syria.

While some women venture into such a path in desperation by personal choice, others are forced into brothels with no escape. Girls I have met in all neighbouring countries share with me their feelings of shame and guilt while in a safe shelter after being rescued from such situations, each has their own tragic story they tell me of how they got to that stage, some girls as young as 12 years old.

One girl I met is 13 years old, her parents died in Syria, she was taken to a neighbouring country for safety. Instead, she found herself thrown into a brothel, her dignity already stripped from great loss in Syria, This girl is also pregnant with the father being one of the clients of the brothel that was more than happy to abuse a child in such a disgraceful conduct. She wishes for death and has attempted suicide on two different occasions. She is in a safe shelter being cared for by the right people assisting her and is recovering as best as someone can given the horrific ordeal she has been through.

Photographer-YasminAlTellawy

One of the wedding & beauty shops in Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan. Life continues as best as possible with marriages a frequent occurrence as they would have been in Syria, and some marrying to feel safer.

Women of Syria are also being bought as brides to men who claim to wish to take them to a better life elsewhere, they use them and disappear. These girls are then left dishonoured, with so much shame when they have done nothing wrong. Syrian women have always been recognised throughout the world for their beauty; men are now finding easy access to these women, and use them with no shame to their actions.

Women can be found begging in the streets where they are in such danger of being kidnapped, raped or murdered, but say they have no choice to try to get money.

Photographer -Yasmin Al Tellawy

This little girl was begging at the side of the road with her mother alone, a road used by truck drivers mainly. Her mother said she had no choice, she had to beg every day to try to pay rent for a place to sleep, her husband was in Syria. This young mother, alone with her child knew the dangers she was facing when I asked her, but she had no choice she said.

I recently attended a wedding of a young Syrian girl who was getting married to a man from the Emirates who was 41 years her senior. Excited at the prospect of getting married & being able to help her struggling family with money barely worth mentioning as the dowry, she weds. Two days after the wedding, her husband had to return to work and would be coming back to get her soon to go back to the Emirates with him. Over a month has passed since the wedding and the groom has not been heard off since. This tragically has become a more common story among the communities of refugees.

Syrian women themselves in some cases, have become pimps for lack of better terms. Arranging marriages for money or running brothels. Generally brothels are run by men and women who have been previously involved in the sex trade who have seen the Syrians as a great way to expand their business.

Photographer-YasminAlTellawy

Zaatari Refugee Camp, Jordan

Within Syria in certain areas where extremists are feared by Syrians themselves, fighters from foreign countries with associations to terrorist organisations who have been able to gain ground in Syria throughout the war are also taking advantage of these young girls in Syria. Families have told me that these men come to a refugee camp in Syria or an area full of refugees with many girls and pick what girl they want as a bride. Their fathers tell me they know if they dare to say anything these men would not hesitate to kill them.

There are incredible people who are assisting women to find work or education. Many communities have helped them with finding work in local hospitals as a cook, teaching little children, making clothing, and a wide array of other options so that these women to not fall into prostitution. They get salaries for their work and keep their dignity.

Photographer-YasminAlTellawy

Zaatari Refugee Camp, Jordan

Safety within refugee camps is also greatly overlooked. Corruption continues in host countries with guards of refugee camps accepting payments to allow men to enter the camps at night and abuse the Syrian women, if they are not taking advantage of the women themselves. They are granted access to rape and kidnap girls or both if they choose. Women live in fear within refugee camps with the knowledge of what could happen to them.

Syria is facing the worst humanitarian crisis in history with no end in sight. Millions homeless, countless numbers killed, countless injured lacking assistance, Syrians seem to be entering a life of destitution. While I do not deny there is great work being done by many and commend many organisations for their life changing work, the crisis of Syria is just an overwhelming issue.

The more time I spend within Syria and in neighbouring countries within refugee communities, I see just how wide-spread this issue is. None of this is new to what I have been speaking off since the latter part of 2012.  Having spent a lot more time on these issues within this year especially, I can only see a fast growing rise in this issue. New brothels frequently arising in nearby countries to Syria, with scared young women living in fear within them, more prostitution arising in refugee camps with women as cheap as a few dollars for an hour in some camps. I still am yet to see any organisation truly target these serious crimes and issues to give better protection to the women and children of Syria who are most vulnerable.

Syria : Male Anguish

As it is Father’s day, I wanted to focus on a few issues the Syrian men are facing. While none of this is new, it is just not spoken about as much as I believe it should be.

Photography - Yasmin Al Tellawy - Syria

Syria – Men in Syria laugh and joke together, humour being something Syrians are well-known for.

Today thousands of children are without their father’s. Today thousands of children from Syria are not only without their father’s, but many have been witness to graphic visions of their father’s and loved ones deaths.

While we are all aware many men who have lost their lives to the conflict in Syria have been soldiers, giving their lives to fight for their country, fighting for what they see as protecting their family; there are thousands of men who have lost their lives while trying to just stay alive and not partaking in any activity of the war.

Photographer-Yasmin Al Tellawy  - Syria (3)   Photography - Yasmin Al Tellawy - Syria (1)
Syria – Some of the young men in Syria

Countless numbers of men are currently under arrest in Syria, their fate unknown, suffering horrendous torture that is unspeakable off for the majority of men should they survive. Some men have disclosed details of their ordeals of diminishing humiliation  in prisons in Syria with me, shocking accounts of crimes past any form of comprehension.

When I am with men in Syria, I am yet to hear someone not wish for death instead of being arrested and tortured because they know just how bad it is. As I am sure most of you know, many will always say they keep a bullet for themselves; I even met one man of the Free Syrian Army who shot his best friend as he was being dragged away by a government militia known as the shabiha, telling me that his best friend would have done this for him also – to take your own life, or that of a loved ones just to escape torture is a small glimpse into just how much suffering these men undergo.

Not only are these men tortured to extremes that no-one will comprehend unless they have experienced such a horrendous ordeal, they are subject to sexual violence. This is something that few men will ever speak off feeling such shame, but it is used rather commonly within torture in Syria. While it is no secret that men are subject to such violence, it is just spoken off rarely. Many men in Syria share with me that they even believe that men are raped as much as women in the war if not more.

Men lack the support to deal with such abuses, men are to be seen as strong humans especially in the Middle East so support networks are lacking for men who have suffered such horrific crimes.

Some men have been known to committed suicide since the violence in Syria, mainly due to the fact that they are unable to provide for their wife and children anymore. Unable to help them, unable to find work, unable to protect them.

Men of Syria are extremely determined unlike most cultures, Market Street of Zaatari Refugee camp in Jordan being a prime example of the entrepreneurship skills of the Syrian men, however opportunities are lacking.

Photographer-YasminAlTellawy (61) Photographer-YasminAlTellawy (60)
Market street, Zaatari Refugee Camp, Jordan

The men of Syria are not only subject to severe torture and sexual violence they also bear all the pressures of providing for their families. The young men are also facing pressures for choosing to not fight in Syria. Many men do not wish to fight in Syria, but many are increasing finding a problem with this telling them they should be in Syria fighting for their country.

I remember close to the beginning of the war in Syria being with young men who had joined the Free Syrian Army, watching them as they chanted songs of revolution on their way to frontline battles, but I could see their fear underneath it all, I could see these young men’s worries behind their eyes. Now I meet the same young men, few off whom are still alive, if not severely injured, and they are hardened soldiers, a natural progression of any war of course, but I do wonder what their future shall be if they are lucky enough to stay alive to see the end of the war in Syria; A country steeped in deep history and culture.

Photographer-Yasmin Al Tellawy  - Syria

Syria – Brothers in war. Both suffered serious injuries while fighting for the Free Syrian Army.

The long list of issues facing men, women and children of Syria is ever-increasing.

A generation of children are to grown up without fathers, mothers, and without both parents in many cases. A generation of children who will never know their fathers past tales of war and tragedy.

Syria is a human tragedy. These are human beings, fathers, mothers, children, brothers, sisters, friends, loved ones, people just like you and I in this world. People whom once had lives like you and I, jobs, homes, everything just as you and I can have an opportunity off. Syrians seem to have become numbers, daily figures of death, injured and tragedy. One life is too much to be lost in war, but in Syria there are a minimum of 93,000 (according to official UN numbers) killed, which is most definitely much less than the actual death count to date, never mind those missing, under torture, and of course the millions homeless and having fled the country.

Photographer-Yasmin Al Tellawy  - Syria

Syria – Once a university student, turned Free Syrian Army soldier shot in the neck, now paralysed from the neck down with some movement in one arm only

Talk of weapons, politics and all that is without questions extremely crucial to discuss is pushed to the top of the priority list with humanizing the war in Syria secondary. These are lives that are being destroyed and lost every day. These are lives of human beings, each soul has a name, a story just as important as the other in this world.

Rape in Syria

Rape has always been a dominate weapon in war. Rape in any circumstance is a horrendous, disgusting act; when you add the violence in rape that happens within a war, it brings it to yet another sickening low act that is beyond the imagination. Rape and sexual abuses are committed frequently in Syria, however are highly under reported.

Rape has always held a stigma attached to it of shame in the Middle East and through religion this is heightened. Rape holds a stigma wrongly attached to it worldwide of course. In the Muslim culture at times with rape cases, the victims can often be forced to married their rapist, have their children, and do not have a voice in this matter. They are given a feeling of shame. Rape in war currently from Syria has brought a business of selling these victims as brides, trafficking rings have been set up, a money-making trade has been made out of these victims from Syria.

What I will also point out as many people misunderstand Muslim culture, this is not how every Muslim feels about rape, or deals with the crisis happening with this, like any culture and religion there are the good and bad within it. There are Muslims assisting these victims as much as they can in the right way too.

Rape in Syria is currently happening not only to females, but males also, however, males will never speak about this matter tragically to get the help they require.

Girls suffering from rape; and I do want to emphasise girls are in need of serious help, some cases are even as young as 7 years old (I have personally dealt with one case at this age), with age of cases I have dealt with mostly from Syria are predominately between 11-20 years old. Not only are these girls raped there is a great deal of violence within the rape, many have already witnessed horrific atrocities happening, some have witnessed their own loved ones being killed and are then raped, abused and tortured in highly intrusive sexual manners. Brutality which includes being prodded with a hot rod in their genital region, mice being used are commonly reported as being inserted into these victims, and many other disturbing, and brutal methods of torture are being used to harm these victims.

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Many girls are scared and try to hide it from their own loved ones where possible, they are living with this shameful feeling within themselves. The suffering they have gone through with this horrendous situation, to then in some cases to find they are pregnant at times and are also being sold as brides.
These victims feel worthless, like they are unable to marry, have children, they are feeling like their life is over and in many cases wishing for death to knock upon their door as they can see no life ahead of them. Some organisations are providing what they feel is assistance by selling these girls as brides as a charitable act.

I have two particular cases that are strong in my memory always. One being what I previously touched on briefly in my last blog, and another being a girl so scared from her religion and family, even though I knew her own family would have assisted her, she turned to religion heavily, not allowing any men to see her at all, and covering everything, even her hands if she went out anywhere, her own mother did not wear a headscarf on normal occasions. I was lucky to be able to meet her to assist her in the appropriate way so she no longer had to keep this all in her mind.

We have problems now with trafficking of Syrian girls, some due to them being raped and deemed worthless, some as their families feel they are doing right marrying them off from a life in a refugee camp. There are many reasons for this. There is a major problem of girls being used as prostitutes, girls being dumped when unwanted in certain Arab countries and thrown into brothels. The problems happening currently are out of control and need better assistance from our world to be stopped.

Can you imagine being a child, having watched your family be murdered to then be raped repeatedly & graphically tortured in the most revolting ways imaginable, to then be possibly sold as a bride or used as a prostitute? I am sure you fail to imagine this or connect to this on any level. I remember turning 13 and recalling worrying about whether my school bag would have been cool to fit in with the cool kids, worry about my hair style, running around in fields picking wild raspberries. I am sure most of you have many childhood stories of your ‘worries’. Can you imagine being back in that age and thinking of the graphic rape you have just suffered through, the loved ones you have lost and feeling unable to speak, and then if you possibly do speak, the chances are you will end up in a wealthy Arab state as an extra wife, or used as a prostitute. This is what is happening in many instances right now as you read this.

Rape is now being committed by both sides of the fighting in Syria. It is used as a weapon of war for many reasons. Reasons that I would like to think the majority of us will never be able to adhere to such comprehension. What we need to focus on primarily is getting these victims the help they need, not judging them upon their sect of religion from Syria, or which side may have committed the crime and so forth.

Sadly I personally cannot stop rape crimes being committed in our world, but I do know what we can do as humans who should care for humanity and take the appropriate steps to dealing with rape in war. We can assist these victims in the appropriate manner without judgements of religion, culture or any of the barriers in our world.

If you have been a victim of rape, you are not a person who should hold shame in any way. You need to know you are a beautiful being in our world and have not done anything wrong. You are someone important in our world. You do not deserve to be treated as a victim who should be ashamed. You deserve the right support for what you have had to tragically suffer through. You deserve protection, care to recover mentally and physically, care without judgements.

I have worked with quite a few rape cases from Syria in the past year, my mind cannot comprehend the trauma these girls have suffered for the simple reasons being I do not, and do not ever wish to understand the minds of these sick individuals and groups committing these crimes. I do find it hard to sleep most nights knowing the monstrous acts that have been shared with me by many victims. I can only think constantly, and I hope many of you will agree with me; what is wrong with our world? Why are we allowing these crimes to happen? What more can we do?

I ask you to focus on what is happening in our world. Syria is facing one of the worst crisis in more recent history. There are many issues happening across our world, I ask you to take action, stand up against these matters, make a change, we can all make a change no matter where we are.

We are all doing something wrong in our world if victims of rape in war are being sold as worthless beings. We are all doing something wrong in our world if we are not opening our eyes & hearts to this matter. We are all doing something wrong if we do not take action to make a change.

Rape is only one of many war crimes being committed in Syria of course, but is the most sensitive and is lacking support. We need to focus on the assistance of victims from the crisis in Syria, and this is not being done enough.

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Children are suffering internally from being witness to barbarity without the appropriate treatment for their future, women without support living in fear of sharing what has happened to them, men who have been tortured in such explicit conduct that bury it so deep internally, the list is truly endless, never mind the injured who are not getting the support they need either. There are so many problems not being addressed sufficiently from the crisis of Syria.

There are organisations of course set up to assist with these victims of rape; however, it is proving ineffective for several reasons, and also depending on how you look at the right way of deal with rape may be.

5-10% of the crimes happening in Syria are reported. There is so much more happening that is not being shown, and we need to work together for humanity to show these crimes, assist with these matters and bring help in the right way. I am shocked constantly speaking to people, general citizens in various countries surprised that I am speaking about a war in Syria who say in shock ‘are they still having problems?’

Please take notice of the crisis in our world.

This is the most sensitive topic within the war to deal with; the point is that we can deal with it and it is time we did.

Truth – Peace – Love.

Helping Humanity, Open your Heart for Syria.

Recently, I have been going through files from Syria in 2012. I came across this picture and it brought back so many memories.

ImageI had gone on yet another trip inside; I was planning on 1-2 days in Aleppo after Idlib, this was at the beginning of the troubles in Aleppo, before it went to mainstream media, when it was still very much in the hands of the regime and not the opposition. I decided to go into the centre, things were very different at the time upon going into the centre, I won’t go into much detail of it, but, there were no Free Syrian Army groups going back and forth at the time, everything was silent of this, everything was with regime checkpoints in the centre, not FSA checkpoints.

About 8 days later, after no communication with those few on the outside who knew what I was working on inside, no emails, no phones, nothing, let’s just say I had landed in a far from safe situation, I was out to Idlib border again,  back to being able to breathe, feel safe for that time frame. I won’t go into great details of everything day to day.

I let kids use my camera when resting, in family homes and so forth, it brings them a moment of joy from the boredom the poor children have to suffer through with no schools, no real freedom for play time and these things kids need. What I didn’t realise was this kid had listened to me speaking about what had happened and was paying close attention to the chats with the adults in the group. He took this snap, this was the moment I had phone communication again and relieved a lot of very worried people on the outside who were starting to think the worst. It was such a joyous moment and this brought me smiles as I reminisce over that trip. It then brings me great sadness.

During that trip, I had witnessed some of the most horrific scenes to date in Syria for me. Things that still haunt me, still shock me, things that I would wish no-one to see or experience.

It started with a 12-year-old girl who had been raped horrendously by what is known as the Shabiha, a militia group loyal to the Syrian regime. The Free Syrian Army had rescued her, she had witnessed her family murdered in front of her own eyes. They took her and continuously raped her, they used mice as part of shaming her, and prodded her with a hot rod type of item. Now, I won’t go into the tragic details of this crime, but you may find it hard to believe. How could anyone do this to a little girl I thought as she shared her horror with me, myself in the moment even in so much shock trying to believe her story. With just her and I in the room, she was being treated for her wounds, she was crying, wishing for death as what man would ever want her, she called herself a monster now, she could never have children, her family are all gone, what did she have to live for she questioned me, the tragedy that was before me was beyond comprehension. I tried to comfort her, I tried to calm her, she lifted her gown and blankets from the hospital bed she lay on and shouted at me to look at her disfigurement.

I had lost any right to question her story she shared with me in that moment as I fought to hold back my every emotion in front of her.

Rape is not something spoken about openly in the Muslim culture; it’s difficult for someone to speak about from any culture, but no culture as difficult as the Arab nations.

Rape is happening more frequently than can ever be documented in Syria currently, including men suffering sexual abuses.

Continuing that trip, there was tragedy after tragedy in all the regions I travelled to. Everyone not without their tragic story to share, places of terror, fear, the unknown that could happen at any moment with the fear of helicopters at the time circling as we would await them dropping out rockets. Descriptions I could never put into words, nor could anyone of what the situation is like inside.

These scenes are only worsening inside now. These tragedies are worsening daily, yet we are approaching 2 years of the troubles in Syria and it only continues to deteriorate while it seems humanity is lost in the world.

I only share this tiny glimpse into one of my trips into Syria as looking back at this file, seeing this picture, and remembering it all, as I do every trip I have made inside, I never forget everyone who helps me, everyone I meet, I just don’t share much publically about it, but I spoke to this little boy this morning and asked him if he remembered the pictures he took on my camera, he said yes of course, he loves my camera he said, and he asked me if I am happier now. I asked him why he asks me this, he said because when he met me I was very sad even though I was laughing and playing with his family. That saddened me even more that this boy, this family that I have not seen again since that trip remembers me, and that little boy takes the time to ask me how I am and if I am happy while his family are in great suffering, lacking food, further lives lost in their family while they lack clothing, blankets and so forth for winter.
I could share a thousand stories and more, as can anyone who has been inside, or any Syrian first and foremost who has suffered – each story is just as important as the other, every human life counts, this is not a statistic; yet this is how most know Syria and it’s tragedy as statistics.

This same trip one of the many families I had met with, a family who took me in for shelter for a short time and fed me, I had given a little girl bracelets as a gift, I always try to carry some small items I could give as gifts to children, I had 2 bracelets she liked, nothing special but she adored them, she asked me what they said, one was peace, one was love, (If you know me, it’s my motto through life and any jewellery I am wearing frequently has this written on it in some way…), so I say to her, Salam (Peace) and Hubb (Love). She said it was so beautiful, and we laughed as I ate with her and her family. I put them around her wrist and she asked me to promise to come and she her again, Inshallah (God willing incase you are not familiar with Arabic terms) I said, and I looked to her family and asked them why are they not leaving as they were in a very dangerous area and it was only a matter of time before it would be hit, I feared for them. This little girl was so precious, so smart, so loving, there was something about her that stuck with me, I think it was because she reminded me of myself when I was her age, she was so beautiful. She came running to me in tears as I was leaving, she was scared I would not visit her again and missed me already she said, and she gave me back the bracelets I gave her. We all were so surprised as the kids love to get gifts and she adored the little bracelets. She said she wanted me to wear them because she wants me to keep the Peace and Love with me as I travelled in Syria to be safe and wanted me to always remember her. After a lot of bickering and giggles, I put the bracelets on and she made me promise her I would never take them off. I never took them off since then. 2 days later I was in a different region and was told that the village was hit badly and there are many injured and killed including many children. Of course my first instinct was to think of Alaa, that little girl, that family who took me in. I requested to go back to that village to see what had happened, my heart sank as I returned to a now destroyed village. I went to the house that was where I sat days previously and laughed with a family, that house was rubble now. We asked around what happened, tried to find information, most fled to refugee camps so I presumed they had left there too. A man in the village remembered me, he was a neighbour of the family and had sat in for dinner with us, he told me to come with him, he took me to a graveyard, to Alaa’s grave. That little girl, just days prior I laughed with was killed as she was buried in rubble in her home. To this day I can’t believe it, but I don’t look at those bracelets the same anymore and I certainly never did take them off, until recently as they were getting badly damaged so I wanted to protect them to make sure I always had them, I replaced them with a small peace & love bracelet I can always wear to remember her.
Peace & Love
This is a frequent story in Syria sadly. It just hurts more as it would any human I would like to think when you meet the people personally, it adds a different level of upset to the situation.

The beauty in the hearts of the Syrian people is one that I cannot ever falter. It is not one that anyone will ever understand unless they have travelled to Syria, or lived in Syria or been working inside. Being any outside to the religion, yet being brought in and welcomed and assisted is something that is lacking great understanding to the outside world. Muslim’s get put under one big title in the world by those who lack education on the religion or live in little bubbles of Fox watching news turning a blind eye to the real world.

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Right now there are millions of humans suffering across our world, from many countries, cultures, religions. Right now though, Syria is suffering the worst humanitarian crisis possible.

No-one can imagine the suffering the people are going through, the tragedy that has happened and is happening. You see about 10% if you are lucky through the media. A lot more needs done.

We are here on this earth for humanity, to help one another in need. It is not about religion, not about race or anything alike, this is about humanity.

I am asking you for humanity, to please help in any humanitarian way you can. Please open your eyes, please donate what you can – financially, clothing, blankets, anything else to a local group that you trust is doing great work inside and / or in the refugee camps surrounding Syria. If you need advice on trusted groups in your country please get in touch I will be happy to guide you as there are sadly many who are profiting from war as always happens and cannot be trusted too, so please be sure to verify donations carefully. As some of you may know, I am starting my own organisation, and have received many donations of medical supplies, clothing and so forth to get through to those in need. I will not be ready to launch my organisation official until March roughly, but if you do wish to pass anything through I can direct it through me if this helps for those who know me. My organisation will be a different way of involving the world in bring aid to those in need, it will not be limited to Syria, it will be a worldwide organisation, however in the first year the prediction is we will only be aiding Syria through it.

Be thankful for all you have, for that phone call you were able to make today, for that cup of coffee you made yourself that you must have every morning or else you will have a conniption. Be thankful for life, for your children, your wife and your husband if you are lucky to have found love in this form. Be thankful for that bowl of cereal you had, for that lunch date you are going to have, for that vacation you are going on. Be thankful for the water running freely from your tap, for the joy of being able to sit in comfort and read this right now without worry.

Please don’t use the excuse well it’s not my country, they are not my family, they are not my people. This is disgusting to say and sadly I have heard this too many times for my liking. We are one in this world; we should always be reaching out a helping hand to another.

We live blessed lives, even your worst day is your best day, believe me. You are alive, that is enough to be thankful for, and with that, being alive means you are a human in this world and our duty as human’s are to help one another in need.

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I cannot fathom on any level what it would feel like to lose my child, to lose my father, my mother, my loved ones through horrors of war, and in such horrific and painful circumstances. I cannot nearly imagine how I would feel if my child was raped, tortured, beaten to death and worse. I am sure you cannot either. I have seen what it feels like for others first hand to face this, others who once had a normal life, a husband they would kiss goodbye to as they left to work, kids they would open the door to as they came home excited and playful after a day at school begging to go play before dinner, your everyday life, taken away from you, and if you are lucky to be alive still, you get to go and live in a dirty refugee camp, lacking all forms of aid.  Think about it, open your eyes.

Live a good honest life, please be more than what the world is conforming to be, cheating, lies, destruction and so forth. Please be more. Stand up for humanity; stand up as a human being. Spread Peace & Love, this starts in your heart and spreads one little bit at a time.

I share little glimpses here and there of small stories just to give a glimpse into a humanised side of things in Syria. If you are on my mailing list I share a lot more, but will from now on try to blog a lot more…

Be Truth, Be Peace, Be Love, Be Inspiring.

With Peace & Love,

Yasmin

Atmeh Refugee Camp, Syria.

Atmeh Refugee camp, Idlib, Syria.

I want to share a in a small and highly condensed manner a visit to Atmeh refugee camp. Bare in mind when reading this, I have visited Atmeh on countless occasions.

FILE00046 copyAtmeh Refugee Camp, Syria

Current estimates from Atmeh on their count of refugees here are around 12,000, however, that varies depending on who you speak to – showing just how disorganised this camp is.

There is no official count of people staying in this refugee camp. There are no records of those at the camp, and there will be no change in this any time soon.

There are various aid groups, organised by individuals, made up of Syrians around the world raising funds, collecting vast amounts of medical supplies, clothing, blankets and so forth for this camp, I myself have even attended some fundraising events for these things, yet inside the camp these efforts are not to be seen.

I spent about one hour just walking around the camp at first to gather my bearings and understand what was happening here.

As I walked through the camp, I could look to my far left and see a man urinating in the not too far distance, a lady squatting to use the toilet behind a walk erected as some form of bathroom facility, but of course lacked any privacy. In this area, the stench of faeces & urine was a little much for me to handle.

FILE00078edit copy Urine puddle in Atmeh refugee camp
Part of the toilets set up in Atmeh full of faeces / A puddle of urine gathered from the make shift toilets

On continuing my walk, we see a young girl of 6 crying, the man with me at this moment spotted her first and we rushed over to her aid, we asked her what was wrong, she was lost. She had been wandering lost trying to find her mother at their tent again after going to get some food. We spent some time calming her down and locating her family; she was not far from them, but again, just a small indication of the disorganisation.

As anyone will know who has entered a refugee camp, you are fast to gather a vast number of followers, the children gather in great numbers and follow closer than your own shadow, my shadow started calling for me to follow them, and so I did. They took me to another section of the camp where a family had found a snake in their tent. The families begin to share their stories with me of their encounters with snakes entering their tents, a common occurrence for many.

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Some of the children in the refugee camp in Atmeh

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2 examples of the snakes being found in the tents of refugees

As they share their stories of escape from regions across Syria, yet another family arrives after a long journey from Syria. They women are already in tears upon arrival and reluctant to speak with me as they were so scared & confused with what has happened to them. One lady tries to speak with me, but turns her back to me mid-sentence as she could no longer contain her outburst of tears. The men of the group come to share to me what has happened, more family members had been lost, their homes shelled and destroyed, everything lost, understandably a highly traumatic time for them as they arrive to a stench ridden camp after falling asleep in their own beds the previous night.
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This lady had just travelled from Hama to Atmeh, she had to turn away as she broke down in tears after trying to gather her emotions to talk to me.

One another walk through the camp, I am drawn to a woman sitting alone on a small rock outside her tent. I could see the distance & deep sadness in her eyes as she stared into a dark abyss. I had to sit down with her to speak with her; her 4 young children appear to join us as we talk. The lady had come from Homs 12 days prior to our meeting, she travelled from Homs to Hama at first where she had other family after her home had been destroyed, sadly that day there was an air attack on this village and was left with no other choice but to try to get to Turkey to seek refuge – 4 days later after a tiring & terrifying journey she was in Atmeh at the camp. Loved ones lost, others left behind with their destiny’s unknown. The lady appeared to be in pain also so I enquired as to what was wrong. She had kidney stones and was in a lot of pain. After many visits to the field hospital they were unable to give her anything to help her, I took it upon myself to get her the medication she needed. After a short trip to the now rather bustling village of Atmeh compared to my first visits long before there was such a thing as a refugee camp, I had the medication from a pharmacy there, 300SYP (Around $3.50) and we were on our way back to the camp again 30 minutes later, the only problem was it took another 30 minutes to find her again through the maze of tents.

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Interviewing the refugee mentioned above, I gave her children each a lollypop, the smallest little thing, yet the gratitude and joy it brought is indescribable. The true appreciation, care, & love of the families in Syria is a beautiful experience that no-one can understand truly until you spend time with them to understand what I am talking about.

As night fell, I spent time at the field hospital; a young nurse struggled to deal with the amount of people turning up at moments asking for bottled water because they were sick from the water, appearing with sick babies, children malnourished and very ill in appearance. I commend this young man for all he is trying to do, he stays at the camp, and helps out of the goodness of his heart.
I was compelled to spend a few hours there assisting matters and learning from him his experiences at the camp. Lack of medication the largest problem, medication being given for the wrong problems another.

It all led me to wonder, where on earth is all this aid that I keep hearing is being sent in, yet I don’t see it ever there? Something doesn’t make sense that’s for sure and without question there is as great disorganisation on the outside as the inside.
You can see limited amounts that have been donated previously from groups in various countries, tents, some medicine, when asking the majority living there they have the same answer, they don’t see any aid. There are various banners that have been hung by groups to show their advertisements of what I presume are their work, but I don’t see anything else past the banners.
On driving through the village, I see 5 British Ambulances sitting in a condition far from how they would have once left their destination, sitting on driveways where FSA and others reside, but certainly not in use as ambulances.

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An FSA leaders new car in his driveway / Just one of the ambulances sitting for the wrong use.

In Atmeh there are at least 6 opposition groups, I am reluctant to call them all FSA (Free Syrian Army) groups, as they most certainly are not. The number of groups there continually rises.

One small village of importance in many ways. A safe haven for many escaping terror from their home villages; also a haven to foreign fighters in need of housing in Syria.

I have known Atmeh for quite some time, but sadly, I have watched some men change from the more innocent, poor men they were, to the growing powerful, yet uneducated in what they strive to achieve.

Various leaders plead their cases of we need help, we need aid, we need money – nobody helps us and so forth. These same leaders now in possession of good cars, from BMW’s to Mercedes brought in from outside of Syria, the same men who did not even know how to drive months prior. Dressed smart now, equipped with good weapons, their houses getting repairs and luxuries added to them. The sad problem with this is that there are many groups who have nothing, who need help, but finding who to trust is not an easy task nowadays in Syria until you see things with your own eyes.

One of the leaders was unable to afford a pack of cigarettes I was told before the revolution, now; he has a rather nice BMW in his drive. How? Well, he helps to find housing for the foreign extremists entering from Turkey, that’s partly how he made his money. That day, that same leader had held a gun to another leaders head ready to pull the trigger in an argument the both declined to share more about.

I am told stories from those working for the opposition about some aid, trades being made for weapons and so forth. Such things would not be shared with me of course by any leaders.

By all means, please don’t take me wrong. I am not here to pick sides. I care for the humanity and truth in all of this and nothing more. I only share what I see, what I know in truth and have found with my own eyes. This will anger many, I’m sorry for that, but facts are facts.

If the groups could get their act together in Atmeh they could be doing great things. Most of the young men are bored, sitting around smoking and on the internet when they get a chance for access. Some of them want to help the refugees more, want to build toilets, help in many ways, but they are stopped from doing so by those higher up, due to the clashes of various groups in Atmeh. Other members in the FSA say the refugees damaged the toilets (2 in particular that were meant for thousands to use) and that some steal and other tales that no-one had anything to actually back up other than tales that were Chinese whispers. Some young men now just happy to be on a weekly salary.

Understand one thing from this if you are not fully up to date on the matters of Syria. This is just one village, one example, by no means are all the FSA like this, each village, each area of Syria has its own different situation happening. The only common factors amongst the areas of Syria are that numbers of groups and different kinds of groups in the opposition are growing continually.

There are countless numbers of displaced internally. Each has their own tragic story to tell, each in dire need of help. There are many good people trying their best inside and outside of Syria trying to help, but it gets outweighed at times by the corruption inside. It is a very difficult thing to contain your emotions inside when interview those in crisis and seeing all that you see inside.

Sadly, like any war situation, it is the innocent families who end up in the greatest harm, there are those who get poorer and those who gain greater finances within war, a tale that I can only personally wish would stop happening in our world.

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The steady stream of refugees flowing into Atmeh

Memories of these moments at the various camps I have been to, of being trapped through shelling, of trying to recover those from rubble, of dodging snipers, mortar shelling… the stories are endless, are memories that never leave.
But those faces you see of the family members weeping over their lost loved ones, humans – people like you reading this now dismembered, in pieces from explosions, beyond recognition, burned and dumped after torture from a corrupt regime, little children in a puddle of their own blood as it flows from their own neck, women raped in horrendous ways along with men, both too ashamed to speak about their experiences, children afraid to sleep even after a long period of safety, the countless wounded in horrific manners, again – endless stories, but ones that the whole world needs to open their eyes to. I don’t post the graphic images just to respect those who cannot handle look at them. Well, as much as I respect your views, I ask you to look at what is happening to other humans in our world, take a moment and be thankful for all you have, the safety you have, the family you have, some may think well it’s not my country, not my problem. I ask you to rethink that, we should be as one in this world, we should be helping for humanity, we should always have our eyes open and remember that everything in this world has a ripple effect.

Always think of those in need across the world, it is our responsibility for humanity to help one another in this world.