MAHER (35), HOUDA (30), ELIAS (12), IBRAHIM (9), YUSRA (3). Maher, Houda and their family left Syria and have been living in Qushtapa refugee camp in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq since August 2013. Their 12-year old son Elias was diagnosed with cancer in 2012 and they have struggled to find treatment for him amid the conflict.
The hospital was shelled while Houda was inside with Elias. When Elias’s hair fell out because of the cancer treatment, Maher shaved his own head too so Elias “wouldn’t know it was from the medication”. They want to be resettled so their son has access to treatment and their children can go to school. Maher: We all came to Qushtapa refugee camp together. It has been a year and four months. I left because of the war and because of the lack of livelihood options. My son has cancer. He was getting treatment in Damascus. It was really hard to get the treatment because the hospital where my son was receiving treatment was in another neighborhood.
I left because of the war and because of the lack of livelihood options. My son has cancer.
It was a troubled area so every time I used to take my son to receive treatment there were snipers and gunfire. It was very dangerous but we had to go for my son. Elias has pancreatic cancer and every three weeks we had to take him to get treatment. Maher: When he had his treatment, his hair fell out and I shaved my head as well so he wouldn’t know it was from the medication. When we were coming back to Qamishly from Damascus, Jabhat al-Nusra [an armed group] stopped the bus and wanted to punish me because I had shaved my head and I had to explain. 9 Houda: Every time I took Elias to the hospital for his treatment I saw a lot of fighting. There was an intense firefight with bullets hitting the hospital. I called my husband and said, “Listen, I am really afraid”. He was outside the hospital and the doctor came and said, “All you ladies get out of the rooms and stay in the corridors because the rooms have windows”. We started shouting and crying and we got hit by two shells. The second floor ceiling fell to the ground. All the glass broke. Maher: …When I heard the shelling I ran upstairs to try to get her. One of the ceilings was open with a big hole. I did not take my son out, I did not leave. I stayed there so he could get the treatment because the doctors stayed as well. When the doctors stayed, we all stayed. It’s still going on now, the bombing. We really hated our lives. Once we left the hospital and got the medicines [for Elias] we left. Life is very difficult here because we need doctors and medication for Elias. We have really suffered to get treatment for him. Before we left Syria he had the bone marrow test every three months and then every six months. He has been here for one year and four months and hasn’t done the test. They said they weren’t going to take any more x-rays and we should take him to a private hospital… For my child there is no help, no aid. I feel really happy we are going to be resettled to Europe because the treatment over there is much better. It [is] enough to feel like a human over there. Houda: I just want my children to be educated and I want Elias to be cured.
Qasim is a Palestinian refugee from Dera’a camp in southern Syria. He arrived in Lebanon in December 2013 after his family home was destroyed by air raids. He has a daughter and son and his wife is pregnant. They live in a refugee camp. Qasim has a disease called elephantiasis and is unable to find proper treatment. He is concerned about his daughter who also has the disease.
Before the crisis, he had an operation in Jordan but a mistake was made and now his legs are at risk of being amputated. Qasim was extremely upset when speaking to Amnesty International and broke down in tears several times due to his concern for his daughter. Qasim: I have one daughter and one son and my wife is pregnant. We live in Burj Barajneh camp [a camp in south Beirut set up in 1948 for Palestinian refugees] in a house. Before living in Burj Barajneh we spent one month in a warehouse in Burj Hammoud [a neighbourhood in Beirut] but there were lots of rats so we came to Burj Barajneh and found a house. I have a disease called elephantiasis. It is when the lymph nodes are blocked. I have suffered from this disease for 17 years… I took medicines in Syria and had three operations. Last summer the regime came and there were air raids in the area where I lived. When the bombing started it caused problems with my eardrum and I got a fracture in my skull. My house was destroyed but my family and I managed to get out. That’s why we came to Lebanon. My leg will start getting bigger and if I don’t get treatment [it will get worse]. My daughter, who is 14 years old now, has the same problem. During the last Ramadan my daughter was taken by a local NGO to a doctor and we found out she has elephantiasis. We can’t afford the treatment and it is not provided in the region. I had an operation in Jordan and they made a mistake and now my legs are at risk of being amputated. The UN can’t help me. In every treatment I am waiting to die. I really don’t care if I get treated but I want my daughter to get treated.
HAMOOD (21). Hamood is a young gay man from Dera’a in Syria and is struggling to live in Jordan, where he arrived in March 2013. He left Syria because he feared the threat certain armed groups could pose to him because he is gay. He told Amnesty International that while in Jordan his brother tried to kill him and he was raped by six men.
He feels discriminated against and is unable to work because of restrictions in Jordan. He has been interviewed for resettlement and hopes to be able to go to a new country, find a partner, and be himself in public. Hamood: The war in Syria made me come to Jordan. When Jabhat al-Nusra and other armed groups were present I had to leave the country. Nobody knows I am gay except my friends. I live by myself here. After we [Hamood and his family] left Za’atari refugee camp (the largest refugee camp in Jordan) we got separated. I haven’t seen them [since]. I have problems with my brother because he knows that I am gay, so I left. He threatened me and tried to kill me. I wish I could go back to Syria because it’s going to be easier and more merciful than Jordan. The government here is against being gay. It was much better in Syria being gay. I feel the pressure more here. I am behind on the rent. I am supposed to receive food vouchers from the UN but my family gets them, not me. We are not allowed to work. I went to get some work a few days ago and they said “Syrians, no, no, no”. I said “Why? Do you think I am going to poison the food?” Sometimes I exchange sex for money. I find people through an internet site. I go to them if they have a place. That’s how I have to survive and I can hardly cover it.
Sometimes I exchange sex for money. I find people through an internet site. I go to them if they have a place. That’s how I have to survive and I can hardly cover it.
Frankly, all I have on my mind is to go back to Syria, but in Syria there’s only death. [I was taken] to a house [by a man] and six of the guy’s friends all wanted to have sex with me and they forced me to. Of course I couldn’t report it, I would be sent back to Syria. This happened about six or seven months ago. I haven’t told anyone because I am still afraid. I don’t know how I am saying it now. I like to dress [up in women’s clothing]. That’s what I do in my spare time. I can’t do that outside. I will show you a picture of a gay couple getting married. It was [here] in Jordan. We entered as men and then changed and did everything. My friend works in a hairdressing salon. You should see when we walk on the street together. We get a lot of rude words [from passersby] and even the police don’t have manners when they talk to us. They say, “If God gives us the power only”, meaning if we had power over you we would execute you all. [Usually] I ignore this. We get threats on the street every day. Sometimes we wait until it gets dark [to go out]. We are addicted to rain because the streets are empty. During summer I will go out once or twice during the entire period. It is very difficult. It is known in Arab countries they will not accept Syrian refugees. I did interviews [for resettlement] to go to a country in Europe. If I go I will be reborn. I will consider myself as having a life. Whatever I see on the internet, how I see the gay people living their life [is how I want to live]. The first important thing I want to do is work and if it’s possible I will meet the right person and he will become my partner for life. To get dressed up, put make-up on and go outside without problems, that would be my dream. If I do it for one day and then I die I would be happy.
ALAA (33), DANA (25), HAMAD (7), RAMA (5). Alaa and Dana live with their two children, Rama and Hamad, in a refugee camp in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Their house in Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, was destroyed. They decided to leave after bombings by planes and alleged water poisoning. They want their son Hamad, who has cerebral palsy, to get treatment. Alaa says the hospital in Erbil wouldn’t help because he was Syrian.
Alaa: We came to Erbil in January 2014 from the border to the camp. We are from Hasakah Governorate [in northeastern Syria] but lived in Aleppo. We had a house there but unfortunately it got destroyed. I used to work in the private sector in a pharmaceutical company. At the beginning of the conflict, there was no electricity and no water. When sunset came we were not allowed to leave the house and I was not able to get [the children] milk or anything. Things got worse. At the beginning the protests were peaceful but then we heard shelling and firing [of bullets]. The government sent police and the army. There were a lot of people killed and we saw a lot of destruction. The children were terrified. Rama was really scared and Hamad would wake up and not know [what was going on]. With every bombing the entire building was shaking and glass was broken… I have seen many wounded people. I saw many people with bullets in their chests.
I have seen many wounded people. I saw many people with bullets in their chests.
My job was stopped. I no longer had a job or any money. At the end of 2012 around Ramadan we had a call from the mosque that the water was poisoned by the regime. That night the planes started bombing as well. I couldn’t stand it anymore. Not for me, but for the children. We left the building and saw lots of other people leaving at the same time. Because I was carrying Hamad and Dana was carrying Rama we didn’t take anything with us except our documents. I thought it was better to leave. It’s better to die outside than have a building fall on your head. I rented a house for 20 days [in another part of Aleppo] but we had nothing. I had to knock on people’s doors to ask for things. Those 20 days made me ten years older because I had to work really hard to get things for the children. We didn’t have anything. We went to Qamishly [a city in northeast Syria]. From Qamishly we went to Maliki [a city] near the border with Iraq but the price of medication [for Hamad’s condition] was very high. The Syrian regime bombed Maliki. I didn’t have a job or money and [there was] no school for the kids. That’s why I came to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. I came directly to Qushtapa [refugee] camp. We don’t have our family. We feel like strangers. The biggest problem here in Iraq is that there is no treatment for the child. I came to Kurdistan with one hope: to cure our child or at least to improve his health. We got a referral to a hospital in Erbil. When they knew I was Syrian they didn’t help me. I don’t have a job here and it’s much more expensive than Syria. I am really happy they [UNHCR] told me I was leaving [for resettlement]. The date is not specified. My first dream is for Hamad – I want him to improve. I know people are being treated like humans [in Europe].