WMC Women Under Siege

‘We can’t go back. We have nothing left’: Syrian refugee women on the border

Almost every hour, the men run to the Serbia-Hungarian border crossing, shouting together, “Open the gate! Open the gate!” But the Roszke Horgos border remains guarded by Hungarian police after the government of Hungarian President Viktor Orbán ordered it shut on Tuesday.

As the men pace up and down, smoke, and play cards on the Serbian side of the border, it is the women who wear stoic expressions of calm and resilience. Wrapping their children in their shawls, they hide inside their tents. Most of them have been on the road for three to four weeks, many leaving their husbands and sons behind in Syria.

Fariyal, seen here, has left two of her sons behind in Syria and is trying to go to Germany. “This whole journey has been psychologically traumatizing,” she says.

I try and talk to a woman who’s feeding her baby while she is surrounded by other women. My English, my Urdu, my sign language—nothing works. She nods at me to go away. I frantically look for an interpreter, and it works like magic.

The woman opens up to me like we have been long-lost friends. Fariyal has so much to say, but simply hasn’t been able to. “We don’t understand their language, and they don’t understand ours. That’s the biggest difficulty,” she tells me and smiles.

Fariyal is 32 years old and a mother of three boys. She left her two older boys (aged 11 and 8) with her husband in Damascus and is trying to go to Germany with her youngest son, who is three months old. “My house in Syria has been razed to the ground. You know, it is not easy to survive as a woman in Syria. At checkpoints, if they like a woman, they say, ‘Come with us.’ I desperately wanted to get out and for that I paid a lot of money—almost 400 euros. My husband and two boys will come after they manage to save more money.”

Fariyal is speaking very fast, and my translator, Halim, even faster. I glance at my phone, hoping that everything is being recorded. More women gather around us now. Those who were hiding in their tents also come out and try to tell me their stories. But Fariyal’s bold and authoritative voice soon silences them and she continues.

“This whole journey has been psychologically traumatizing,” Fariyal says. “I was such a healthy young woman. Now, I urinate involuntarily at night. I’m not ashamed to talk about it.” I can tell that my translator is trying his best to use the right words. The men, women, and children here are not shy of each other. They are just doing their best to help.

Fariyal goes silent. She is near tears. “At the Serbian camp after we entered from Macedonia, I had a very bad experience. I was trying to take my son to the toilet. I couldn’t understand that the cop was telling me to line up. I really couldn’t understand him. He kicked me and hit me. Others came to help me, and the cops hit them as well. It gets very hard to go and get papers in every country. That’s when the women are harassed and, at times, they also caress us. These are just some of the problems.”

All the women nod in agreement. One elderly woman lifts her gown and shows me scars and marks on her shin. She says the marks are dirt.

“We take a bath only once in 10 to 15 days. It gets difficult to find places,” Fariyal tells me.

I ask them if I can take a picture of them, and suddenly they all get shy again. “Please don’t. Everyone in Syria will see us on Facebook and attack our men back home,” one says.

I promise them I’ll take a picture that doesn’t reveal their face or identity. The women get excited. These are women who want to talk, who want to tell their stories, who want to be photographed, who want to see the world. Their biggest worry right now is whether they will be able to make it across the Serbia-Hungary border. “We can’t go back. We have nothing left back home.”

For more reporting from the border, see Priyali’s Sur photo essay, “Spending the night on the Serbia-Hungary border with refugee women.”

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More articles by Tag: Sexualized violence, War, Trauma



Priyali Sur
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