Horrifying chronicles of Syrian teen in Assad prisons
Omar in Sweden.
Date: 2016-10-06 06:00
I lived with my mom and my dad with my eight siblings. My dad worked as an accountant. Before that, he was an officer in the Assad “army.” My mother worked in various types of commercial works. I studied, so did all of my siblings. My eldest brother Mohammad was working with my father and I worked with my uncles in a stone masonry after school.
Our family was very close, we did everything together. We looked up to our parents, they were our role models. The greatest thing we owned was a greenhouse where we grew tomatoes. We arranged trips there and had parties.
War erupted in Syria. It actually started in my home village of al-Bayda. Young people were the first who went out to show solidarity with the protests in Dara’a. But also to demand reforms and to pay attention to those who had been imprisoned by the regime since 2008. People had been put in jail, but the regime did not admit it. People had just disappeared.
I was at al-Banyas first demonstration with my dad. Since he himself had been in the army, he knew about the regime’s corruption. On April 12 in 2011, our village was besieged. They started shooting from all sides, killing and injuring people. The security forces stormed the village and took all the men. Then, they looted the city.
I was arrested by the political branch of the security force. But before they took us to their headquarters we were brought to a village where they tortured us, only because of religious and sectarian hatred. They used all possible methods. Women and children also participated in the torture. They beat us with wooden and iron clubs but also with chains. After that, they pissed on our heads and in our mouths.
Afterward, they took us to the security headquarters in Tartus. That’s where the questioning began, followed by torture. They asked me "how many officers in the army have you killed?" I replied, "I am sixteen years old, I do not know how to kill anyone. I have never seen a gun."
They tortured me to make me confess things I hadn’t done. When they used electric shocks and broke my bones, I could not stand it any longer. I was ready to tell them everything they wanted to hear. Anything, as long as they stopped torturing me.
I was a high school student during that time. I came back to school filled with fear and horror. But despite that, I continued to protest, demanding my freedom, along with all the others who did the same. I believed in justice.
When I lived with my aunt, my cousins and I were arrested by the security forces.
They took us to a prison in Tartus. When we got there we were forced to take off all our clothes. We were separated and placed in small cells, the walls were covered with blood. The torture began with car tires. They squeezed us into the tires so we were in a very uncomfortable position, then they hit us with various objects. They electrocuted us to the point where our bodies stopped working.
After that, they hung us up in handcuffs and tortured two of us in front of my third cousin. They wanted him to break down mentally. It was the worst experience of my life. We confessed to all sorts of things under torture. The guards wrote down everything we said, even though they knew that it was just fiction.
We were moved to security branch 215 in Damascus. An infamous place that became internationally known when a photographer leaked photos of those who died from torture at the branch. I was kept there for one year and nine months.
After the first three months, they killed my cousin Rashad. Another one of my cousins came there in October the same year. In March 2014 my second cousin Bashir died in my arms. After a few months, they killed my third cousin. So I was all alone, without my family in prison.
People fought with each other over a spot to sit on, over food to eat and over water to drink. There were people who were injured and had worms in their wounds. Some died after the guard had raped them. Others were forced to rape each other. They died because of it. Others simply died of sadness from not being able to see their children. People died of diseases and the different forms of torture.
My mother was forced to pay 15.000 dollars to an army officer. With the help of him and a few others, I was released at last. But while I was in prison, my father and two of my brothers had died. They were killed in the massacre in al-Bayda in May 2013.
When I was released, I had tuberculosis. I was an outcast. I had lost my father and two brothers in the war. I fled to Turkey to meet the rest of my family. It was the only time I met them before I fled, I did not want to infect them.
An aid organization called Malham helped me. They helped me with care, money, and accommodation in Gaziantep in Turkey, near the Syrian border. I lived there for two months. My body was completely shut down because of all the medicine I took. It was difficult to follow the doctor’s instructions.
When I was in Turkey, I met an international organization from UN and told them about my experiences. I also spoke with Amnesty International and other organizations. After I told my story, I received threats by telephone from supporters of the regime. Then I decided to flee to another country to find safety and medical care.
I didn’t want to leave my family behind in Turkey. They were in danger. But my mother insisted that I would be sent away so I would get proper care. Although she was worried about the risk of the trip on the rubber boat. But there was no other option. There was corruption within UNHCR in Turkey. They didn’t help me get treatment. There was no legal alternative.
I had to bring my little brother so he could help and support me during the trip. The journey over the ocean was long, it took seven hours and there were high waves. We reached the shores early in the morning. We were there for several hours before we went to a Greek police station. They took advantage of us and demanded money to let us pass.
We walked long distances on foot. I had to carry my little brother who was eleven years old when he got tired. In Serbia, we were treated like animals and criminals. We would rather have died than to endure the insults that were thrown at us.
When we made our way through the Balkans and came to Austria, I finally got medicine at a hospital. We met with the Red Cross and they told me to go with them to Germany. When we got to the refugee accommodation there, I found out that I had to take off my clothes, so they could search me. It was as if I was imprisoned in the worst and infamous prison 215 again. I, therefore, decided that I would leave for another country.
I left Germany and went to Denmark, and then to Sweden. When I finally arrived in November 2015, I had drained my last drop of energy. I told myself that I would stay here, even if Sweden proved to be a hellhole. I could not endure any longer.
During my escape, I made several friends. I told them about the Assad prisons and what happens there. One person I met gave me his shoes and said, "I can find a new pair of shoes for myself. Do not worry about it." When I met that kind of people, I forgot my illness and my fatigue. It’s a beautiful thing that there is still that kind of people on earth.
After being at an asylum seekers’ centre for a short while, I was taken to the University Hospital of Malmö. I stayed there for nine days. I rested and took my medicines. I then went to the Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm with my brother Ali. That’s where I met my first Swedish friend, Jacob. I also got to meet his family. They visited me, and I visited them. His mother, Eva is the former CEO of a large company. We kept in touch for several months until the family decided to take us in as their extra children.
In the future, I want to continue studying. I have no anxiety for the future. I have already made it through the worst part of my life – the Assad prisons. Whatever is left will be easy and simple by comparison.
I have walked all the steps on the staircase to the kingdom of death. Why should I be afraid in Sweden?
Although I am happy in Sweden, I still miss Syria. I like a garbage dump in Syria more than any other place in any other country. I miss everything in Syria. I miss the air there, the water. There is nothing like the Syrian water. I want to travel to the hole in the ground where my dad and my brothers are buried along with sixty other people. People without identity. Bodies the regime set on fire before they were dumped.
I long to visit our house, which they burned. And my dad’s picture hanging on the wall, maybe it’s still there. I have no other pictures of him. I have no memories of him. Prison ate up all my memories.
I want to visit the place where my best friend was buried by the soldiers who cut his body into pieces and set it on fire. I long to tell him that we will be wrestling each other again.
There are no adequate words to describe the memories I miss. Memories that can’t be folded and preserved in an archive. They are so much more than that. But perhaps my tears can be the ink that writes them down for safe keeping.