Sunday 22 September 2019

'I left Syria because there was nothing left to eat'

SAFE: Syrian sisters Iman (9) and Emany (11) Mustafa in Gaziantep, Turkey on the Syrian border. Pic:Mark Condren
SAFE: Syrian sisters Iman (9) and Emany (11) Mustafa in Gaziantep, Turkey on the Syrian border. Pic:Mark Condren

Stephen Rae in Turkey

Laila Mustafa made the journey across the border to Turkey when her family were on the verge of starvation.

"I left Syria because there was nothing to eat or drink. We had no other choice but to get out," she recalls.

The widow and mother of seven, ranging in age from 21 to five, says the trek out of Syria took almost a full day.

"It was such a difficult journey," she says as tears well up. "I make handicrafts. I saved enough money.

"I wish no one else has to go through what we went through. We took a car, then we walked. By the end, it was the middle of the night. It was dark and cold.

"Thank God we made it. It's very hard to make ends meet. We're able to survive because my son is working. Connecting with this centre (ASAM) has helped a lot - we were linked up here with the health services and the social services."

Like a lot of Syrian boys, her son is the sole breadwinner, forced into work to feed his family.

"Husseyn (14) carries goods from one place to another. When he comes home in the evening, he complains of a sore neck and back.

"It's a tough thing for a boy of his age to have to do.

"I want to have hope that he will get an education, but we have to pay rent and of course the people here are helping us… I want to have hope, but it seems hard."

Her younger daughters are now in school and being taught Turkish.

"It's definitely much better than when we first came. We are getting support. Iman (nine) goes to Turkish school - she can read and write and I'm very proud. But Emany (11) should be at fifth grade, but Turkish rules are making it difficult to get her into school." Like most Syrians now living in Gaziantep on the border, they want to return home some day. Asked about going to western Europe, she responds: "My two girls (21 and 20) are married here so I can't do that." She follows events in Syria very closely "At the end it is my home, my land, my nation. Of course I feel I must keep up. My family still lives there." Both her younger girls Emany (11) and Iman (9) are haunted by the war but progress at school helps them live as normal a life as possible. Unicef Ireland helps pay for teachers here.

Asked what do the girls remember about Syria, Iman (9): "The kitchen. The inside of our house." Emany (11) says: "I remember my room."There is some hope however. Asked what she would like to do when she finishes school, Emany replies: "I want to be a teacher - I want to open a school for orphans."

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