Tales of horror from Syrian refugees

Reaching Jordan, they can finally tell world about torture, abuse by regime.

Syrian refugee camp 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Syrian refugee camp 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
IRBID, Jordan -- Ahmed’s friends call him the living martyr. A total of 16 bullets pierced his body when Syrian security forces attacked protesters in the southern city of Deraa last year. The 24-year-old activist was smuggled to Jordan for treatment after troops raided Deraa hospital in pursuit of injured activists.
Ahmed says his survival is a miracle after seeing parts of his guts burst out of his body as he was pummeled by a barrage of gunshots .The troops sprayed him and his friend with bullets “like they were giving away sweets,” he recalls now. Even from the safety of Jordan, where he is now a refugee, he asks not to be identified by his full name.
“They noticed we were standing near a demonstration and started shooting randomly. I was injured and my friend was hit, too,” he says, recalling the panic and fear among his friends as they saw him bathed in his own blood. “The army noticed I was alive because I used my phone to call for an ambulance, but they shot at me again.”
He reveals to a visiting reporter scars across his back, legs, arms and abdomen. “They wanted to make sure I was dead,” the frail-looking young activist explains. His friends and colleagues were sure the army had succeeded. “Everybody was expecting me to die at any moment. They even had a funeral planned for when the official announcement of my death would come. I survived, and now my friends call me the living martyr.”
Ahmed arrived in Jordan last year to complete his treatment after it became impossible to be treated in health centers in Syria.
The Syrian army regularly raids public hospitals and clinics, arrests or shoots injured people, say activists from the southern city of Deraa, which was the cradle of anti-Assad protests that are now entering the second year. Jordan has provided a safe haven for hundreds of activists over the past months as they sought safety from prosecution and targeting by the Syrian army.
At least 28 civilians were reported killed in Syria on Saturday, with fighting stretching from the outskirts of the capital Damascus to Syria’s border with Turkey. On Sunday,  Khaldiyeh, Hamidiyeh and Old Homs neighborhoods suffered heavy shelling by the army and explosions shook the whole city, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria reported.
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Most activists come from Deraa and more recently they have started to arrive from the war-torn city of Homs. The city is 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the Jordanian border, but activists are reluctant to go to nearby Lebanon after pro-Syria forces arrested there some and handed them back to Damascus.
As of March 15, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had registered 5,391 Syrians in Jordan and more than 2,000 were waiting for an appointment to register. But Jordanian authorities say more like 70,000 Syrians have arrived in the kingdom since the anti-Assad uprising started. Unofficially, the kingdom is constructing refugee camps in expectation that more will arrive and be staying for some time.
In the north-Jordan city of Irbid, activists have begun taking testimony from Syrian asylum seekers to document their suffering. It is effectively the only way to know what is happening in Syria, where the foreign press is officially banned and movement is severely restricted.
Two weeks ago, Amnesty International released a report based on interviews with torture victims now in Jordan. It based its conclusions on just a few-dozen interviews but said the number of victims is likely in the tens of thousands because nearly everyone who is arrested by the Syrian authorities faces some kind of torture.
Those families trying to cross the border legally, which is becoming increasingly difficult as the Syrian regime tries to stem the tide of refugees, have had to pay Syrian customs officials bribes of up to 50,000 Syrian pounds ($873) to cross, Khaled Fayez Ghanem, an official at the Islamic Charity Centre Society, told the IRIN news agency last week.
Wanted activists do not have that option: They have to traverse landmine-infested borders and cross illegally into Jordan. If they succeed, the Jordanian army on the northern border offers them cover, including families and individuals, when they are shot at by Syrian forces.
Islam, an activist from Deraa, has taken upon himself the task to meet as many refugees as possible in order to piece together what he calls the “systematic abuse by Syrian security forces.” Islam himself is a victim of torture. The activist said he was arrested twice last year and in each occasion torture was a common practice.
The first time he was arrested was in Damascus after speaking to a number of activists and foreign journalists.
“I was blindfolded and had my hands tied with painful plastic handcuffs. I was dumped in a small van alongside other activists. On the way to detention, beating and insults were frequent,” says Islam as he recalls the psychological torture inflicted on detainees.
Islam was placed in a small cell with a single window four meters (13 feet) above the floor. The only sounds he heard during his confinement were doors slamming and people screaming from pain. “They wanted us to collapse before even reaching the interrogation room,” he recalls.
Under investigation, detainees would be regularly beaten amid continued insults and threats to family members.
“They would threaten me to rape my sisters and wife if I didn’t cooperate. It was a true nightmare,” says Islam, who detailed methods of torture practiced that included sleep deprivation and mysterious injections that cause anxiety.
London based Amnesty detailed in its report 31 types of torture, including ‘crucifixion’-type beatings, electric shocks, use of pincers on flesh, sexual assaults with broken bottles or metal skewers. The scale of torture and other ill-treatment in Syria has risen to a level not witnessed for years and is reminiscent of the dark era of the 1980s and 1990s, said Amnesty.
In its report, Amnesty called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to extend the mandate of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria and reinforce its capacity to monitor, document and report, with a view to eventual prosecutions of those responsible for crimes under international law and other gross violations of human rights.
In spite of the risks and severe injuries he has received, Ahmed says he intends to return to Syria to join the revolution against President Bashar Assad and his regime. In the meantime, he is collecting donations to help the free army continue resisting authorities while at the same time reveal to the international community crimes committed by the regime.
“I was supposed to be dead long ago. I do not belong in Jordan or any other place of exile,” he says. “I want to go back and fight for my people.”