They arrived in Gaziantep last Sunday night, a family of six: Hanadi, pregnant in her fifth month, her husband Qassem, their two children, aged three and two, and her brother. They left with backpacks and two blankets. Everything else - their families, friends, home, and belongings - were left behind in their hometown of Raqqa. Hanadi told us her family had found ways to live under DAESH. But when the air strikes began, it all became too much.
"We didn't know who was bombing us, we just saw planes in the sky and we didn’t know if it was the Allies, the Russians or the Assad regime," Hanadi told us when we met her, less than a week after she and her family had reached Gaziantep.
The Long Journey to Safety
Her family’s journey out of DAESH-controlled Raqqa first took them to an area under the control of the Free Syrian Army and onwards to the Turkey-Syria border. They spent four nights and five days on the road. They slept under olive trees and in ditches dug by their smugglers. When they finally got to the border area on their third night, Hanadi told us they breathed a collective sigh of relief. Little did they know that things were about to take a turn for the worse.
"When it was time to cross the border, the smugglers made my family and I ride in cars with about thirty others, but they put everyone else in very big vans. A smuggler accompanied us half way then we were on our own. He told us to take the first right turn at the border. By the time we realised that the smuggler had duped us and sent us to a Turkish checkpoint, it was too late. We’d been sent that way to distract the soldiers while those in the big vans were smuggled across."
The Turkish army forced them back. Exhausted, desperate and angry, their group ended up spending the night in the Syrian border town of Azzaz. They finally managed to cross into Turkey late the following night.
Raqqa On Their Minds
And while Hanadi and her family are finally living safely in a predominantly Syrian neighbourhood in Gaziantep, those they left back home in Raqqa, less than 200 kilometers away, are constantly on their minds.
"A few days ago, DAESH cut off all internet access in Raqqa and we haven't been able to communicate with our families. We are very worried about them, we don't know how they are and if they are surviving the airstrikes."
Note: The names of the people mentioned in this article have been changed to protect their identity for security reasons.
Author: Zeina Awad