Please note we have changed the names featured in this story to protect those personal identities.
Sara’s Story – Ex Syrian Prisoner of War
We met Sara who had been relocated to Reyhanli with her 2 sons, having formerly lived in Homs, Syria. What immediate struck us upon meeting her was how beautiful but also how strong she came across. She welcomed us into her home, which she shared with her 2 sons now aged 11 and 8. She works as a cleaner locally to try and make what little she can to provide for her sons. She wanted to share her story to show what is happening in Syria to innocent women.
Sara was arrested in February 2012 as she walked near Homs Square where protesters had been peacefully protesting with the recent outbreak of the war. She was arrested along with her 3-year-old son Mohammad for aiding terrorism. Immediately they were taken to an equivalent of a secret service prison, where she only expected to be held for a few hours before being released to go back home.
This could not have been any further from what happened, she spent the next 7 months being transferred from military prisons to political prisons to civilian prisons to secret service interrogation prisons until she was finally held in a civilian prison for a further 2 and a half years. What she explained happened in this time was truly frightening and the fact that any women could be treated in such a way.
Sara explained up to 45 women and their children were held in one cramped space and systematically removed for ‘interrogation sessions.’ These were barbaric prolonged periods of torture and rape, “Women would be taken for hours at a time, and come back physically and emotionally traumatised and exhausted, we knew what had happened to them”. On one occasion, she remembers being raped to the point she was unconscious and only woke up after persistent efforts by her son to feed her scraps of food, “I suddenly woke up and my son said to me you were dead and I brought you alive by giving you this potato, you need to eat to live.” On another occasion she was being attacked by her abusers and her son ran at one of the men to try and make him stop only to be tossed into the air like a rag doll and told to stand against the wall.
Her son saw the abuse consistently throughout his time in detention with his mother, and this is what hurts her the most, “No son should have to see what he saw, and he still remembers everything. For this I ask God’s help for my son.”
The women were constantly subjected to sexual abuse, they would pray to die “We would pray for God to take us and put us all in one grave, it would be easier to die once as during our suffering we would die a thousand times a day, the torture was bad.”
Children would be subjected to beatings should they say anything or try to protect their mothers. Finally, Sara was given a trial where her bail amount was set at 1200,000 Syrian pounds which equates to £1700 GBP, this was paid. She was released on the condition she stayed in Homs. However fearing capture again, she managed to escape to an area called Halib Albab within the Aleppo Province and from there she was smuggled by traffickers to the Turkish border.
From the border Sara and her sons were taken to Al Doccrum hospital in Antakia where they were checked over and rehoused in Reyhanli. Although they were given the ok physically, physiologically the scars remain for both her and her son. Her eldest son suffered not knowing, for 3 years what had become of his mother and brother whilst he was being cared for by his Aunt. He still worries every time someone comes to the door or a stranger talks to them that his family will be separated again.
Sara constantly mentions her worry over Mohammad and his state of mind, she said he sufferer’s nightmares and panic attacks, he also hates to be apart from his family.
This for me was probably one of the strongest women I have met, and recounting her horrific ordeal with the strength and dignity was something I felt important for the world to hear as were her wishes. However what lays heavy on my heart like many victims of sexual abuse they carry guilt with them, a number of times throughout the interview she expressed “May God forgive me for what they did to me”. She feels that because of these horrific violations she was subjected to, she is in some way responsible and this will take make years to change if ever.
Her parting statement was one of hope “I would like the Arab and European countries to come together to help stop these terrible things that are happening to these innocent women. We are told in Syria that women are not detained and free from abuse, I witnessed this with my own eyes. These does happen!”
As we closed the interview, I felt the need to apologise for making her relive these atrocities, her response was one of strength “Be victorious in making the world hear the stories of the women who are still suffering.”