Syria, once a unified country bordering Lebanon, the Mediterranean Sea, Turkey, Iraq and Jordan, can no longer be defined this way. The country had been fractured by over two years of war with over 100,000 deaths, endless injuries, and infinite numbers of kidnapped and detained activists and citizens. Back in 2011, when the Syrian uprising started, many did not know that a day would come when they would pack their bags and leave, perhaps for good. But today, NOW had the chance to talk with four Syrian activists who made it out of Syria safe, yet recently decided to end their lives abroad and go back into Syria.
Omar used to work in IT and medical assistance. Once the revolution started, he put his computer literacy to good use by organizing demonstrations and documenting them online. After sustaining an injury, Omar moved to Egypt for treatment in order to avoid being detained in Syria; his plan was to stay in Egypt no longer than one month, but the situation in Syria went from bad to worse and he formed a new plan to work and study in Egypt. At the same time, he has continued his efforts to insure the arrival of “technical and medical” support within Syria while sharing news and reports online. Settling in Egypt was never a major goal: everything he had – family and friends, education and work, and most importantly, the revolution – is still in Syria, and Omar is now trying to go back home. In addition, the conditions in Egypt are worsening. After President Morsi expressed his support for Syrians, the Egyptian populace started accusing every Syrian of being a “Muslim Brother” and participating in the violence against Egyptians in the protests. “They see us as terrorists now,” he says. To sum up his stay in Egypt: “Same sh*t, different day.” Mohamad left Syria in 2012. Security forces were after him and his family: after they repeatedly invaded his house, he decided to come to Beirut. He tried working with aid groups to make up for what he lost in Syria but couldn’t manage to stay, so he was smuggled back into Al Ghouta. One idea crossed his mind when going back to Syria: “Thousands are leaving daily, yet how many are actually coming back?” A lot of activists are helping from abroad, yet few from the inside because of the siege and the shortage of people. He is saddened and disappointed by those Syrians who managed to flee to other counties and seemed to forget the crisis: this frightens him, and he strongly believes that every Syrian shares the responsibility of never forgetting about Syria. This is why Mohamad decided to go back. And although he was injured on the job back in September and is still awaiting surgery, he is insistent about returning to the field once he recovers.
Alaa left Syria almost two years ago after he defected from the Syrian army, where he was forced into “compulsory service.” He was smuggled into Turkey illegally, then worked in journalism with several institutions. He hates many things outside Syria now, and he feels useless and helpless. So far Alaa has not learned Turkish: he feels strongly that he will be back in Syria soon, and he always keeps a bag ready to go. This unsettled state has become very tiring to him. He is sick of the hypocrisy: many Western countries are trying to promote to a civil state in Syria through organizations conducting workshops and trainings for activists who are supposed to have a strong presence on the ground, but these organizations have corruption written all over them. “Both parties are lying,” he says. “Nothing real can be done from abroad. The real work is on the ground in Syria,” he insists. “Everyone is still theorizing, yet no one is conducting dialogues with people inside Syria, no one is getting closer to the people’s problems, to the real problem. Our crisis is not only humanitarian: it developed into a cultural crisis. We have to get much more involved in the society, to listen to what the society has to say instead of suggesting canned ideas that are rarely related to the main issues.” Alaa wants to go back to work on investigative material away from the “breaking news” about shelling, deaths and detention. “Details are what are urgently needed at this stage in Syria,” he says. “I am in Syria mind, body and soul.”
Burhan left Syria in November 2011 after organizing many protests. Wanted by the Syrian security forces, he moved to Beirut first, where he volunteered and worked in media and humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees around Lebanon. Although he tried to go back to Syria many times, it never worked out. After a while his papers were approved and he moved to Switzerland, but according to him, it does not feel right: “I am now further away from my country where my revolution is. Especially since I lost many family members and friends, we have to go back. The world failed at offering help for Syria; no one can rescue our country but us.” Before the regime falls, he wants to accomplish something for the revolution through contributions to medical assistance, general aid, or media inside Syria. His last choice would be carrying weapons and fighting; however, “if I have to,” he says, “I will do it.” After the regime falls he is planning on working on humanitarian development because “the regime succeeded at destroying the social structure way before destroying the infrastructure of Syria.”
Published on NOW (https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/reportsfeatures/theres-no-place-like-home)