Is Damascus really safe as the Assad regime claims?
With the beginning of winter, the tragedy of the Syrians increased under the current conditions of the economic collapse in the country. They are continuing to suffer from burdens that they are no longer able to bear such as the high prices, poverty, displacement, covid-19 pandemic, and extreme cold weathers. The complete absence of fuel has made the situation even more tragic. Fuel is becoming only available in black market, at very high prices. These suffocating conditions have made people feel insecure and unsafe. We had a dialogue with a senior lady. We also had an interview with a young man A. M, who is a master’s student at the University of Damascus, to see the condition of the youth and their view of the future. We wanted through these interviews to reflect the true feeling of safety in Syria, and show the truth about living under the Assad regime. Despite that many people think that the war might end in Syria, and based on that refugees need to return to their home country, we want to show that there are so many security, economic, and social threats the would make people feel unsafe in Syria.
F.A is a senior lady who has been displaced from Al-Hajar Al-Aswad, south of Damascus, to one of the villages in the countryside of Damascus. We interviewed her and asked her how she feels and what is her greatest fears and concerns of living in the area.
where are you originally from?
I am from Quneitra, but I was displaced with my family to Al-Hajar when Israel occupied our villages. I grew up in Al-Hajar Al-Aswad and got married there.
How big is your family?
I only have one son because my marriage did not last for more than one year. I got divorced and never got married again, but my son is married and has 3 young children.
How would you describe your life before the war?
It was a quiet life. I had a big house with good furniture. I come from a rich family. I was therefore able to raise my son alone, and even after his marriage, we stayed together because our house was very big.
When did you leave your home? And why?
I was displaced from my home at the end of 2012, when the great displacement began, as the people of southern Damascus used to name it. More than 300,000 people left Yarmouk camp, Al-Hajar Al-Aswad, Yalda and Babila, because the Assad regime bombed those areas with warplanes. I was worried about my son and his children. We left our homes during heavy sniping activity by the regime, and walked on foot until we reached Al-Zahira. Then we felt ourselves born again.
Where do you live now and how did you get here?
I currently live in an area called Jdeidet Al-Fadl. I moved there about a year and a half ago, after I lived in most areas of Damascus. After my displacement, I lived in the town of Al-Haama, but it only took a short time for the security situation to become worse, so I left to Jaramana. In Jaramana, I suffered a lot economically as our landlord raised the rent of the house several times. Our rent started at 45,000 and reached 200,000. When I was unable to pay, I moved to Jdeidet Al-Fadl. I live in an attic on the fifth floor, and it is only one room, there is a kitchen and a bathroom in which I, my son, his wife and 3 sons stay. The price of this place not expensive but not cheap either, but its services are very bad. Electricity is absent for days and water comes once a week, so we often have to buy water.
How would you describe your living conditions?
Very terrible! in this context I am not talking about myself, I am an old woman, in the past I lived beautiful days. I felt the sweetness and bitterness of this life, but I pity my grandchildren who are deprived from everything. They were deprived from good quality food. now I always hear them cry because of the cold and the inability of their weak bodies to bear it. I find nothing but wool blankets to wrap them in, so that they may have some warmth as, diesel and gas are having prices and we cannot afford it.
What are your sources of income and how do you see your current situation?
Our only source of income is my son, who works as a construction worker and is able to perform most of the construction and painting works. He tries to take advantage of any work opportunity that falls into his hands, but as you can see, these jobs have no stable income and their work is not continuous, so you find them often jobless. I have no relatives abroad to help me, but Allah sent me or sent my younger grandchildren, a respectable woman, whose children are outside Syria, to give me a monthly sum of money to help me and the children. She even promised me that she would buy me a wood-burning stove so that I could heat the room in which we are staying in.
Do you feel safe in your current residence?
Frankly, I didn’t feel safe since I left my home, and I have not been able to taste comfort or stability. Thank God of course, that I found walls and a roof to protect me, and I know that I am in the better condition than those who unfortunately had to live in tents, but with all these pressures, tragedies and the unknown future, you can never feel safe.
How would you describe the security situation? What are the main sources of threat?
Although the war in our area has stopped and the sounds of the cannons in Damascus and its countryside calmed down, I did not get rid of the state of fear of this regime, as it committed many crimes against us. My situation is like that for everyone else, fear and anxiety, I still feel terrified every time I pass a checkpoint, and I fear a lot for my son, even though he is alone, so he has no military service, but the security members are criminals, and one should behave cautiously around them. I’m afraid of hunger that there will be a day when I don’t find a bite of food to silence the hunger of children, I’m afraid of the cold that I feel in my soul before I feel it in my bones and my body. Everything in this country is terrifying and frightening.
How is your house in Al-Hajar, and do you think of returning? What prevents you from returning to it?
My house became a pile of rubble, but the entire neighborhood also was rubble. When I went there, I did not know the area or the streets, and until I knew my house was a huge and great destruction. I wish I had not gone and did not see it. After my return, I had a clot in my eye and I was threatened with blindness, but Allah cured and protected me. Unfortunately, it is impossible to return, there is nothing left to go back to.
Have you ever thought about leaving the country? And why?
Previously, I did not think of leaving Syria, despite my son’s desire to do so. It never occurred to me that we would reach this miserable state. I was asking myself: how would I ,as an old woman, be able to live in Germany or Sweden or any other country. However, today I feel very regretful because I did not leave Syria as I would have at least guaranteed myself, my son and his family a decent life.
How do you see the future of Syria and the Syrians, especially for the young generation?
I do not see any hope in the near future. The country is a pile of rubble and a destroyed society, and no one is able to heal it. (Crying) As for the youth, there is no future for them under these conditions. As for my personal wish, I wish to die today before tomorrow because I can no longer bear all this humiliation that I live with.
We also had an interview with a young man A. M, who is a master’s student at the University of Damascus, to see the condition of the youth and their view of the future.
Where are you originally from?
I am originally from Raqqa Governorate, I used to live in the city of Raqqa
Describe your life before the war?
My life was normal. I lived with my family a life based on worrying about the day we live in only, without thinking about the future, because we had no fear of what would come, and every day had its circumstances and surprises.
When did you leave and why did you leave your homes?
I was displaced in 2013 with the beginning of ISIS’ entry into Raqqa and the situation in the city changed in addition to the closure of all universities in the city. At this point I realized that if I decided to stay in Raqqa, my future would end and I could not complete my university studies, in addition to that the conditions became very bad.
Where do you live now and how did you get there?
I currently live in the Qudsaya neighborhood, where I arrived here after several moves between several houses and several cities. Qudsaya at one time had unstable conditions, but now it is calm, so I decided to settle there.
How would you describe your living conditions?
My living conditions are acceptable, thank God, I am trying to manage my life, but nowadays things are becoming more difficult, high prices, difficult life, in addition to the increased requirements of life.
How would you describe your life now, what are your sources of income, and how do you see your chances in life?
I am now studying a master’s degree and working at the same time, but my work has nothing to do with my field of study. I have to reconcile between my work and my studies. Thank God, so far, I can manage my expenses. As for the available job opportunities, they are not good at all. When your work field is far from your field of study, you feel very disappointed that you wasted your time and effort studying a subject that did not afford you even a suitable job opportunity, and here it was a great shock to me, especially because I love my field of study and I enjoyed it.
Do you feel safe in your current residence?
As for security, the situation is good, especially since the security situation is completely different from what it was before. There are no longer major threats, and I see that things are good.
What are the main sources of threat to you?
The main threat to me and to young people in general, is the issue of military service. What worries us the most is the compulsory military services. This is a terrifying issue for me, and for any young man. When we see a checkpoint of the regime asking us for identity we get a great feeling of fear, and it has been firmly established in our minds that the security checkpoint is a source of terror even if the security situation is good.
Do you think of going home anytime soon? and why?
Of course, I am thinking of returning home and I want to go back to Raqqa. At the end of the day it is my home. However, I am not very enthusiastic to return, despite there are some positive things in Raqqa and even better than Damascus in many aspects, but Damascus also has positives things. In general, you are displaced, displacement is not only to be away of home or land, but also to be away of the people with whom you grew up with. When you realize that the people you love and miss are not present there, then Raqqa becomes strange as well, just like Damascus, and if I return to Raqqa I will be in a big prison because it will prevent me from moving or travelling to any other place, and up until then, I will be restricted.
Have you ever thought about leaving the country? and why?
Of course, I thought of it! if you ask this question to 10 young people, surely 9 of them will say that they want to travel, today the vast majority of people think about traveling regardless of their social environment, their degrees or their jobs. The only thing that the vast majority of people agree on is the necessity of travel, because Traveling has become an urgent necessity in under these conditions in the absence of any prospect for a solution.
How do you see the future of Syria and its people, especially the youth category?
The word future has become a funny word for me! Right now, there is no such thing as a future! I am feeling embarrassed just when thinking about tomorrow. How can someone think about the far future? The conditions we live in does not help a person to plan his life. Every now and then a new unexpected problem arises for you, that one day you will be exposed to that situation. Any planning you make is a waste of time and all the dreams that you build in your imagination will remain as dreams that are impossible to turn into reality. Therefore, it has become stupid idea to think or even plan for the future.
Cover photo: Some manifestations of destruction in Al-Hajar Al-Aswad, south of Damascus (Social Media)