31 July 2006
Volunteers of the Homs branch of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society deliver daily rations to a child who left Lebanon with her family to escape Israeli bombardment. (Photo: IFRC)Homs, Syria:
“I didn’t think of my toys. I only thought of my brothers and sisters. We were playing at home when the rocket fell on our neighbour’s house and destroyed it.” This is what six-year-old Fadl Abu Milhem remembers. He left his southern Lebanese village of Rihan on 16 July, following Israeli bombardment and warnings to the people asking them to evacuate the area.
Fadl speaks as he stands with his father, his uncle, and his five brothers and sisters, awaiting a visit from the volunteers of the Homs branch of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society (SARCS). They deliver daily rations of food, medicines and other supplies, including mattresses and blankets. Each individual receives a food basket containing sugar, tea, rice, cheese, vegetables, meat, eggs, olive oil and baby milk. The supplies come from Red Crescent stocks, as well as from donations by the local community.
“Whenever we heard the roar of Israeli planes, we hid behind my mother and rushed to the basement to protect ourselves,” Fadl says. “There, we wept and prayed. My father was not with us at the time, he was at Al-Dahiya (Southern Suburb) in Beirut.”
Fadl’s 38-year-old father, Bilal, breaks into tears as he listens to his young son. “When I heard the news of the escalating hostilities, I left Beirut and headed south in spite of the bombardment,” he said. “Hurriedly, I took my wife and five children — the eldest is 14 and the youngest is two and a half years old. From the house, I took only our official documents. We got into our car and headed towards the Syrian border by the Tripoli-Homs highway.
“A Syrian citizen in Homs offered us the use of his empty apartment for free. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent offers us basic supplies. We contacted our relatives and informed them that things here were all right and they joined us. Today, we live with my wife’s family and other relatives, who have also fled the village. It was a very grinding experience. I do not know what happened to our house. I hope I will be able to return there to see it.”
Amira sits with 40 other evacuees inside a tent, pitched by the Homs Branch of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent at Dabbousia, a checkpoint at the Syrian-Lebanese border. Dabbousia is 40 kilometres from Tripoli — Lebanon’s largest city in the north, 70 kilometres from the central Syrian city of Homs, and only one kilometre from Al-Abboudia, the first Lebanese village across the border. SARCS volunteers provide the evacuees with water, light meals and psychological support. They also have access to a mobile health clinic and a general practitioner, who supervises the condition of children and adults.
Amira is in her forties. She hails from Majadel, a village near the southern Lebanese city of Tyre. She is in her eighth month of pregnancy. She says, “On Wednesday, 19 July, the bombardment of our village started. We sought shelter in our houses. However, when two Israeli rockets fell on our already-damaged house and destroyed our neighbours’ dwelling, we had no choice but to flee. Our neighbours left with us. We were 18 in total — 13 women, three little girls aged 3, 7 and 10 years, my father, who is in his 70’s, and my husband.”
She adds: “Had it not been for our fear that the children would die of hunger and fright, we would not have left. We have nothing. We found the clothes we are wearing at a bombed house along the way. I took them when I realized that my children needed them. We are still wearing the same underwear in which we left our house. My daughter is also pregnant and is six months due. She is tired. It is her first pregnancy… We are waiting for the Red Crescent bus to take us to Damascus, where our relatives went before us and are now staying in the Al-Sayida Zeinab neighbourhood.”
Jihad, Syrian Red Crescent volunteer
“Here, at the Dabbousia border point, we work in two shifts, from 8 in the morning until 10 at night and from 10 at night until 8 in the morning,” explains Jihad, a 20-year-old volunteer, who has been working for a year with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent branch in Homs. “We have been working these hours since we were informed by the Red Crescent of the emergency situation on July 13.”
“The families arriving here are, in most cases, destitute, especially those who do not come in their own cars or in public transport vehicles, or those who arrive with others in trucks, or those who have crossed the border from their villages on foot,” he adds. “Frightened children, old, sick people, and tired women still dressed in their nightgowns. Children who are wearing only one shoe or the shoes of others, which are invariably too wide for their tiny feet. Families, of whom only half the members succeeded in fleeing. When they see us, they feel a little comforted. We provide them with water, food, emergency medicines and psychological support. Although we cannot help them with the problems linked to missing documents, we deliver them safely to the border-point employees.”
“We see to it that they are transported to their relatives’ or friends’ houses, or to shelters run by the Red Crescent in cooperation with the government at Al-Qaseer, a region 15 kilometres southeast of Homs, or in Homs itself in schools or youth camps, or with citizens who host evacuee families under the supervision of the Red Crescent.”