Fleeing a War Zone: How Human Rights Abuses in Syria are Prolonging Trauma

Long-time beneficiary Ehab Talal* speaks to CRP about his journey from Syria and how he escaped torture and death. Discussing how CRP helped him, Ehab also uncovers the damaging personal effects of the human rights abuses he endured.

Ehab Talal is a husband and father, just like so many other refugees. His story is a harrowing one and speaks to the value of having a solid support system that we take for granted. As a successful legal consultant, Ehab was targeted and attacked for his firm stance on Human Rights, which led him to flee his home and leave behind the successful life he led.

In 2010, Ehab returned to Syria after working in Dubai as a legal consultant, where he became quickly aware that entire families, including children, were being held in Syrian prisons. He recalls that children as young as 10 and 11 years old were arrested by authorities and held for prolonged periods for no reason. Having already made a name for himself as a legal consultant, Ehab decided to help these families, and he tells us that ‘I could not stand by and watch this violation of human rights.’ Little did Ehab know that his attitude and proactive stance would nearly kill him. 

It was only a matter of time before authorities approached Ehab as a warning to stop helping people arrested, and as a result, he was banned from traveling outside of Syria himself. This warning was a physical warning, and Ehab was tortured, his legs broken, and his shoulders dislocated before being released and forced to sign a document that he would not leave Syria or interfere in any cases. The physical damage was evident; the emotional damage, however, continues to weave its way into Ehab’s life today. While telling his story, Ehab explained that he still has nightmares every night about his time in prison. 

In 2013, Ehab could not control himself and went to a local courthouse to help a family. ‘This was the beginning of the end for me,’ he explains. Someone at the courthouse had seen Ehab and alerted the authorities. ‘It is pretty common to have spies in all corners in Syria, so you never really know who is watching you.’ Ehab remembers sadly. 

The next day, we hear a bomb go off, and smoke, cries, and screams filled my home. I could not believe this was happening and rushed into the rooms looking for my daughter–she had to be somewhere. And that is when I found her on the bathroom floor, bleeding and unconscious. 

Rushing to save her life, Ehab and his wife took their daughter to a local hospital claiming that she had fallen off the roof to protect her and themselves from authorities. During this time, it became clear that he and his family were not safe in Syria, and they had to find a way to flee, or they would all die. Pictures of Ehab had already circulated on the news, and the government had labeled him as a person of interest. 

My uncle organized a car to take my family and me to the Jordanian border. That was the only way to get out. And so I packed my wife and daughter into the car and left. I still remember carrying my daughter’s limp body. After a few hours, we arrived at what we thought was the Jordanian border. The driver told me that it was only a 10-minute walk to reach safety, and we believed him–we walked for over six hours. My wife, convinced that my daughter was dead, kept begging me to turn back to bury her, but I knew she was alive, and I had to believe in something, or I would have lost all hope. Hours seemed like days, and after 6 hours, my legs collapsed, and so I got on all fours and crawled the rest of the way with my daughter on my back. Her blood filled my clothes and my shoes. The smell of the blood and stickiness on my clothes still haunt me today. 

When they reached the border, the Jordanian Army sent Ehab’s daughter and wife to a nearby hospital. ‘I was not allowed to go with them and forced into the Zaatari refugee camp.’ Intent on searching nearby hospitals for his family, Ehab left the camp quickly and found them in a local hospital. 

We stayed there for two months as my daughter began to recover. We lived on the floor of the hospital, eating whatever was provided. Often this was one boiled egg that we shared every 24 hours, but we did not think of that. Having food and a safe place to stay was not a priority, and all I wanted was for my daughter to survive. She had to live! The two months flew by, and then it was time to leave–I will never forget the night that the hospital staff asked us to go. It was 8 pm and the middle of winter. Where was I supposed to go? But we had no choice! I went outside to see where we could stay and found a spot under a bridge. We spent the night there huddled together. All I could think about was how could my life have come to this? I was a successful person in Syria yet now I was going weeks without money or a shower. But the only thing that mattered at that moment was that my daughter was still alive.

In 2019, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) article wrote of the continuing war crimes in Syria. In 2019, from April to December, over 1000 civilians were killed, including 300 children. 

The effects of this continuous civil war on civilians are astounding. According to one particular article where 721 Syrians living in Lebanon and Turkey were surveyed, 84% were displaying symptoms of PTSD. The situation in Syria, moreover, remains the same, and it has been estimated that 2.8 million civilians residing in northwestern Syrian are in need of humanitarian assistance. 

Civilians in these areas effectively had nowhere to go, lacking resources to relocate, unable to cross into Turkey, and fearing persecution if they relocated to government-held areas. Human Rights Watch, 2019

Ehab’s story, however, does not end in Jordan. After their night spent under a bridge, a taxi driver took them to a nearby hospital, where they first met CRP. Ehab told of his harrowing escape to CRP staff members, who immediately put the family on a list to receive food vouchers as part of the Basic-Needs Assistance program. This also helped provide a place to stay for Ehab and help him get the medical assistance that his daughter needed.  

Thankful for the second chance he got, and wanting to give back to his community, Ehab began to volunteer at CRP. He played an integral role in setting up Diwaniya, a program that provides a safe space for men to come together and talk about their experiences. 

Ehab and his family have now found asylum in another country, and he tells us that he loves his new community and even has a small organic garden to give plants away to neighbors. His daughter has finished college and is currently working. ‘Can you imagine, the girl who was going to be buried alive is an employee now?’ he cries. 

About his time with CRP, Ehab stated:

CRP gave me back my dignity and removed my shame. CRP taught me how to laugh again. That may seem like something so small, but it was one of the best things. War makes you forget how to laugh, and CRP gave this back to me.

Ehab’s story is reflective of many individuals who you help support at CRP. He is a part CRP’s community and his presence in Jordan will always be felt through the continuation of Diwaniya. 

Please donate so that CRP can continue to work with people like Ehab and his family!

*Name and identifying details have been changed to protect anonymity

Eliza Ward

Marketing and Communications Team

Collateral Repair Project, 2021