x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Remote hopes for Syrian children of reunion with parents

Wait goes on 16 months after fleeing Syria.

If the UAE Red Crescent had not chanced upon the refugees this week, the deprivations the group has faced would have increased even further.
If the UAE Red Crescent had not chanced upon the refugees this week, the deprivations the group has faced would have increased even further.

UMM AL JIMAL, JORDAN // Bint Hussain and her four siblings are part of a lost tribe, hidden from the world's eyes but still within sight of the country from which they fled more than 16 months ago.

Bint Hussain, 15, is among 72 people living in 10 tents only three kilometres away from the Syrian border.

They are members of an extended family torn apart by civil war, the dreadful sounds of which they can still hear.

If the UAE Red Crescent had not chanced upon them this week, the deprivations the group has faced would have increased even further.

Bint Hussain, among more than two dozen children in the makeshift camp, has not had contact with her parents for two months.

"They want to leave but they cannot," she said. "I haven't spoken to them in two months. Two months and the phones are dead. I know nothing about them."

In the few, precious minutes she spoke to them earlier, their only message was: never come back.

"You cannot imagine how much I miss and need them," she said.

She and her family were among the first to feel the effects of the uprising against the regime of the president, Bashar Al Assad, and among the first to flee Syria.

"Our home was affected the first," Bint Hussain said. "Our building was bombed and so we all went to live in a tent."

She said that after a few weeks her parents and their other relatives decided they needed to leave the country.

A man told them he could smuggle them through to Deraa where they could cross the borders for the equivalent of Dh23,000 - most of their savings.

"Me, my sister and two brothers, went with my aunts," Bint Hussain said. "My parents said they would catch up. They said we needed to go in batches."

The 11 family members in the first group were abandoned by the smuggler at the border. A month passed before they could cross, but they would not say how they managed it.

Now 16 months later, Bint Hussain cannot say how she passes her days, although surviving in the tough, desolate surrounds fills some of the time.

"There are a lot of scorpions here, and snakes," she said. "We kill them with rocks. I really don't know how we survived, we just did. Some Jordanian neighbours helped us by bringing us food and some blankets."

But for the past year there has been little help, mainly because no one knew the group was there.

"We would only tell our relatives where we are so when they cross the borders they can come to us," Bint Hussain said.

In her tent, made of sewn pieces of rug, cloth and plastic bags and held up with thin tree trunks, 14 people sleep on a floor rug.

They received a gift of electricity only recently, after a nearby resident passed an extension cord to their tents.

Then five days ago, another blessing. They were given a black and white TV to keep the children entertained.

But all they watched was news of Syria.

"We watch it and cry," Bint Hussain said. "We cry for Syria, cry for Syrians, cry for our parents."

Her cousin Nayla, 16, is also in the camp without her parents.

"They will come, I don't know when," Nayla said. "I hope soon."

She said a large number of the children who walked for hours from Deraa to the border came with relatives and neighbours, and were left to hope that they would be reunited with their parents.

Andrew Harper, a representative of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, said children at the refugee camps were not being adopted yet as there was still hope to reunite them with their families.

Bint Hussain and Nayla are unsure whether they are orphans or not.

"Right now we pray for them, cry for them, and we are just trying to survive," Bint Hussain said. "We need more than you can imagine."

On Wednesday, the UAE Red Crescent happened on them, and returned on Thursday with boxes of food and basic medical equipment.

The sight of the Emiratis unloading the containers from the truck left many in tears.

"Are they going to come back soon?" asked another girl, Rabha. "We like seeing people. We like people to visit, to know we haven't been forgotten."

osalem@thenational.ae