"It is suffering that cannot be described in words, the words cannot describe the horror we have been through. War destroyed the best years of my life, it took my son, my brothers, it took my existence, it made me sick, because of fear and stress. I lost of my identity and I am a hostage of loneliness."
Amira lived in a rural town in Syria, where she was a teacher. From 2012 to 2015, she witnessed the bombing and shelling of her town before she could flee to Turkey, and then to Lebanon in 2016. One of her sons was killed during a bombing. She now lives alone with her younger son, and suffers from depression. Our team is trying to alleviate her suffering by providing her with psychosocial support.
The tragedy behind Amira's story is shared by millions of Syrian women displaced by the ongoing conflict. Her testimony echoes the voices of all the women we interviewed and the refugees we surveyed, when they explained the long-term impact of the war on themselves and their children. Many have had to flee several times from bombing and shelling in their hometowns and other cities or places they had believed would be safer.
© Benoit Almeras / Handicap International
Women are more vulnerable to the social chaos arising in the wake of bombings. They find themselves without the means to defend their physical integrity and are more vulnerable to crime. "For a full eight months, we lived a life of running and constant escape. We no longer had a home. We no longer had our family around us. We had no place to go. We were two women alone. We were left to ourselves, sleeping in the streets with total strangers, wherever we could find shelter. We had to beg. I was injured and very sick. The destination was safety and security. This is the only thing we were looking for but we did not know where it was. I did not find it." explains Asil who fled to Lebanon with her daughter after her house was destroyed in a bombing.
All the stories we heard are so overwhelming, all of them are filled with loss, death, destruction, fear and suffering.
Bombing destroys everything: shelters, hospitals, schools, water and electricity networks but more importantly: lives. Bombing destroys lives.
All of the people we interviewed noted having a family member or a friend killed by explosive weapons, all of them. "I clung to life because I loved myself; I loved my children; I loved my friends; I loved my students; I loved my house, the walls, and the olive trees. I lost my son - he died; my brother died; my student died; my neighbour died; my friend died; my cousin died. Death surrounds you. I am afraid of death and of the thought that at any moment I might lose my other son, my mother, or my loved ones." explains Amira.
Amira holds a picture of her sons, one of the only items she kept from Syria
© Benoit Almeras / Handicap International
Bombing spreads terror and makes people fear for their lives. "I lived with my daughter in Aleppo. She is not recovering from the shocks of life there. She was treated for psychiatric disorder due to the war. The fear is a burden we all carry. Enough. Enough blood. Enough war." says Nehad who was left paralysed below the waist after being shot by a sniper in Syria in 2015.
Many of the women we interviewed spoke of the endless fear affecting them and their children. "Even in the house, we were always afraid of what might happen next. Children were always scared. They did not deserve this. We did not deserve this. Nobody deserved this." says Nehad.
Civilians exposed to the effects of explosive violence are marked for life. As 31-year-old Hanan, who now lives with her husband in a small and very deprived refugee settlement in Lebanon, tells us, "There is no horror that I did not see. I saw people dying, I saw children dying, I saw body parts cut from people and exposed for all to see. I have seen things that no human being should see. Things that no human being might have seen before."
It took a lot of courage for Amira, Asil, Nehad, Hanan and other women to share their stories with us. Their stories should not only be heard by us, they should be heard by everyone. Everyone needs to know about the horrific impact of explosive weapons on the lives of the Syrian people, and needs to join hands to stop bombing civilians.
Especially in times of war, there are international rules that must be enforced, such as the laws that require belligerent parties to protect civilians from the effects of war.
Attacks using explosive weapons, particularly with a wide-area impact, in populated areas have indiscriminate effects. 92% of casualties of these weapons are civilians. All States have a responsibility to ensure international humanitarian law is upheld and enforced.
Aleema Shivji, Executive Director of Handicap International UK
In 2017 Handicap International launched a global campaign to collect one million signatures to urge all states to "Stop bombing civilians".
The petition can be signed at www.stop-bombing-civilians.org along with more information about the campaign.