Over the past two years I’ve spent time working with Syrian refugees along the Turkish border. I’ve met countless men, women and children who yearn for freedom, pray for security, and hate Daesh (ISIS) more than we can imagine. Some of these resilient individuals are seeking safe passage to the U.S.
Below is the story of one family’s struggle for life, for liberty and for happiness. In light of our governor’s recent comments about halting Syrian refugee resettlement, these are the kind of people we are turning our back on. These are the stories left unheard.
Kilis used to be a quiet Turkish border town; these days it is growing. About an hour to the south lies Aleppo, the biggest city in Syria, but it shrinks every day. Aleppo’s been bleeding for four years now, and Kilis is bursting at the Syrian seams. The two cities are a border apart and a world away.
The air feels brittle today. Winter is coming soon. And the refugee camps in Turkey are full, but day after day they come by the hundreds, by the thousands. What do you do when the camps are at capacity and construction can’t keep up?
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If a refugee crosses the border and no one is there to help on the other side, do they count?
Hamid and Mohammad crossed six months ago. They have five kids. Baby Mohammad is the youngest. He was born here in Kilis with his mother’s eyes and his father’s smile. Hamid and Mohammad are two crumbling pillars still trying to cradle a ceiling above their kids.
In Kilis, they’ve found a small dark corner to call home. Inside, there are two small rooms with no power, no heat and no water. Thirty-three people live here now, 20 are children. We share a meal together, drink a warm cup of tea and sit down to talk.
Hamid wears a bright mosaic hijab. She has stoic stained-glass eyes and swaddles her arms around baby Mohammad, a blanket of faith in a blizzard of doubt. She tells me about her home back in Aleppo.
“I miss my country, my house, my land,” Hamid says.
“There is nothing more beautiful. How can I describe Syria?” she says, while wiping away the tears.
Her husband, Mohammed, sits across the room in silence. He has thick dark eyebrows, a full gray beard, and a giant smile that has faded into a blank stare. I ask him if he wants to say anything. His voice is a river of swallowed tears unleashed.
“There is nothing. We are basically dead. I dream God will bless us. I dream God will bless us,” he says.
Death is not a word thrown around lightly here. The Syrian government uses something called barrel bombs. People tell me helicopters hover like fallen angels over Aleppo and drop oil drums packed with explosives and projectiles onto the people below.
There is nothing. We are basically dead. I dream God will bless us.
Mohammed, Syrian refugee, husband and father
Hamid describes a room similar to the one we are sitting in. Six of her cousins all gathered around.
One bomb. No one left.
There are no barrel bombs in Kilis, just the survivors. There is no gunpowder in the air, just blank stares and tears. Mohammed tells me Syria has been destroyed. He openly weeps before us.
There is nothing left to say.
Hamid and Mohammad wipe the water from their eyes, I thank them, the children smile for a photo, and we say goodbye.
As we walk outside, a small drop of rain tumbles to the ground. The Kilis streets are cold tonight, too cold. The first snowflakes of the year begin to fall like shrapnel from the sky. Barrel bombs crash onto Aleppo in the distance, the city bleeds again. More Syrians run for the border, but the camps are full, and winter is here.
Welcome to Kilis.
This story was created in partnership by Stories with a Heartbeat and the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), and debuted as a featured selection at the International Storytelling Center. You can reach Will McInerney at firstname.lastname@example.org