Syrian war refugees describe five-day escape to safety
Exhausted by a gruelling five-day trek to reach safety in Lebanon over rocky mountains and valleys, Mohammad from war-torn Syria had to walk despite injuries to his leg while hiding from regime troops.
Wounded in Qusayr, Mohammad, 35, is now being treated in a rudimentary hospital in Minieh, northern Lebanon, after Syrian troops and Hezbollah seized control of his town last Wednesday.
For fear of retribution, Mohammad refused to reveal his real name. He was injured in shelling on Qusayr in central Syria on June 5, just hours before the border town fell out of rebel control.
An AFP journalist was asked not to discuss the route taken by the refugees to reach Lebanon, or to ask whether the wounded men were rebels or civilians.
“People tried to evacuate me on a pick-up truck, but there was so much destruction the vehicle couldn’t move,” said Mohammad, his face bearded and extremely pale.
“We left the town on foot though I was losing a lot of blood,” he added, as he lay in a dirty pair of jeans and a grey t-shirt — the same clothes he used for the five days.
He arrived in a village near Qusayr whose name he refused to reveal. There, both he and several other wounded people were treated using a basic first-aid kit.
“There wasn’t enough blood to give everybody transfusions. They treated my wound but couldn’t give me blood,” he told AFP.
Meanwhile, the army consolidated its grip over Qusayr, which had been under rebel control for a year. Mohammad and some 30 other wounded men decided to risk everything to flee Syria for Lebanon, on foot.
“We walked for five nights, to avoid the army patrols,” Mohammad said.
“We rested during the day and whenever we saw the soldiers, we’d hide behind trees in the fields,” he smiled.
The area separating Qusayr from Lebanon is rough terrain. Mountainous and dry, it is a hard walk even without the added danger of the army patrols.
“Some had wounds to their feet, others had shrapnel injuries in their backs and stomachs. We didn’t even have painkillers,” Mohammad said, his voice barely a whisper.
“One time, a man started bleeding… We bandaged his wound with our clothes,” he added.
Their ordeal ended at dawn Sunday, when they reached the north Lebanese area of Akkar. They were then transferred to Minieh, near the Mediterranean coast.
Akram, a thin, 40-year-old man, made the journey alongside Mohammad.
Wearing a blue vest and shorts donated by the hospital, he had shrapnel wounds to both legs, his back, and the back of his head.
“I was in front of my home in Qusayr when a rocket landed right in front of me. I spent half an hour on the ground,” Akram said.
He thinks back to the “terrible bombings” the day Qusayr was seized. He also remembers the “shortage of gauze for our wounds” in the town’s makeshift field hospital.
Akram made the same journey as Mohammad.
“One time, we spent 24 hours without food or water,” he said.
“They arrived at 6:00 am (0300 GMT) on Sunday, tired, psychologically exhausted,” Minieh hospital director Amer Alameddine told AFP.
Two wounded men lay outstretched in each hospital ward, in sombre silence.
“Some of them couldn’t answer the doctors’ questions because they were so destroyed, they fell asleep right away,” said Alameddine.
“Most of them just wanted to eat. We immediately disinfected the wounds that had caused swelling.”
Abu Raed, a Syrian who assists refugees arriving in northern Lebanon, told AFP the hospital was “rented” by activists to treat the wounded.
Lebanese associations provide bread, food and mattresses.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has voiced concern for hundreds of wounded it says are still trapped in the Qusayr region, where the United Nations has demanded “immediate” humanitarian access.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]