Our host in Turkey is a humanitarian and relief organistion by the name of IHH. They coordinate relief work on a very large scale across many countries and work in conjunction with many NGOs. While they were taking us around, they were also taking a delegation from the Ministry of Health from Malaysia. This group was schedule to enter Syria on Monday to visit camps and distribute aid but the governer of the Syrian district close to the border refused to allow them in, saying the situation was unstable. Their entry was postponed to the next day.
When going through the Turkish-Syrian border post one has to change cars several times, because Turkish cars are not allowed into Syria and Syrian cars are not allowed into Turkey. On Tuesday morning when we entered Syria, we were brought to the border with a Turkish minibus. We then moved in 2 small cars to the IHH distribution warehouse. At the distribution warehouse we met the delegation from Malaysia who were refused entery the previous day. We chatted with them briefly and then both groups went their ways, following the programme set up by IHH.
We visited one rufugee camp close to the town of Sarmada. We spend about two or three hours there. Then we visited the site of a possible containerized village in the future. From there we went to another camp that was reserved for the widows, orphans and those ladies whose husbands were in jail.
While we were still giving out parcels in the camp we were told that we needed to abandon all activities and leave Syria immediately as there was a security risk. We were told that the instruction had come from Istanbul. We immediately hastened to the minibus and started reciting Surah Yaseen. In the anxiety of the moment I forgot about my cellphone that was charging in the camp coordinating office.
We set of with the minibus racing towards the border. I felt uncomfortable with the drivers reckless driving and requested him to slow down several times, but the faster we were out of Syria, the safer we were. Through out the journey I kept reciting Quraan and making Dhikr, knowing that we are in a country at war, and anything can happen.
We reached the border, passed through with ease and were taken to the IHH office in Reyhanli. We were made comfortable and after a while the news was given to us that the Malaysia delegation had been kidnapped. They were attacked by men whose faces were covered. The driver of the car was shot twice. They stormed the car and kidnapped the passengers. The driver pretended to be dead, so he was left behind. He was then rushed to a hospital. From the 4 people that were taken as hostage : 3 were Malaysian and the 4th was a an IHH worker by the name of Saleh. Saleh had received us at the Hatay Airport on Sunday evening and spent most of Monday with us. We had become familiar with him. When something happens to someone that you know, it always has more of an impact.
We now waited anxiously for news and developments of the kidnapped group. As time went on it was decided that we have to continue to out next destination. The entire journey to Killis, I kept enquiring if there was any news about their whereabouts.
We reached our destination and checked in for the night. I passed the entire night with all sorts of thoughts racing through my mind. I kept thinking that it could have easily be us.
The next morning we received the news that the Malaysians managed to eascape last night and Saleh mananged to break away in the morning, only to loose his life a few moments later.
Being a radio journalist I read the news everyday. These types of stories are covered almost on a daily bases. In fact, media sources mainly focus on tragedy and the loss of life and have made us immune to stories of this nature. From March 2011, I have been following the Syrian crisis and death toll of the war. As a result, I feel like the death toll has been reduced to mere numbers for me. But now that I was acquainted with someone who lost his life as a result of the conflict, it suddenly has a new meaning to me.
When I reflect about what transpired, it all seems so senseless. What possible objective could have been achieved by the killing. I think that at this point in time we have to remind ourselves: Life and death are undoubtedly in the hands of Allah and every person has an appointed time which cannot be delayed or brought forward.