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13 December 2016updated 08 Sep 2021 1:20pm

Fall of Aleppo: “Call the world and tell them to stop the massacre“

As Syrian government forces recapture the city from rebels, a refugee sends a message to her family and friends trapped inside.

By Amani Idlibi

I escaped Aleppo three months ago.  Now, all I feel is sadness and confusion. I’m sitting here safely in Turkey doing nothing while my friends and family are still stranded in Aleppo. They’re updating us with what is going on and all I can see is that it’s clear they are going to die. They’re counting down the hours until they are executed. There are 70,000 people trapped there with no medicine and no food. I feel so guilty that I escaped and they didn’t.

Our call to the rest of the world is please create a safe road for them to leave. They were told they could leave via western Aleppo but are frightened that the men and boys will be detained or forcibly recruited by the regime. As I write, they are being executed. We just heard that a hospital has been taken and all the doctors and staff were executed.

The situation before I left was desperate — checkpoints had sprung up around the city. I’d been told my home was too dangerous to stay in so my mum and I were staying at our relatives’ house — it was empty because they had already fled to Turkey. I was told that apart from going to pick up my university documents and my passport, I must not leave the house. I had lived in Aleppo my whole life but suddenly it no longer felt like home.

In west Aleppo, even during most of the war, life was relatively normal. Yes, there would be power cuts or shortages in water but never for long. I would still get up early every day to continue my biotechnology engineering degree.  At my university itself though, it felt like there was a revolution inside reflecting that of the outside: there were security guards all over the place, checking your names against the list of those suspected of being involved in activities against the regime. There was always a fear my name was on it, but luckily they waved me through. Afterwards I would head home, visit some friends or family, study for two or three hours and then eat a good meal. There was plenty of food. Night was the only time we really felt like there was a war going on. We could hear the bombs of the regime raining down on eastern opposition-held Aleppo. It was a strange feeling. We were safe in our beds, but the bombs were coming from our side and hitting our neighbours.

But when my brother went to work in a field hospital in east Aleppo, things started to change. It wasn’t safe anymore. The government began to tail him and tried to arrest him. He was put on a wanted list. That meant the whole family was in danger: any of us could have been taken by the regime. He moved over to the east and we stayed in the west. When he was gone we couldn’t talk to him about what was happening over there, it was too dangerous to be in contact with the other side of the city. When he visited us he would tell us about life over there and when he left we thought we would never see him again. 

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Then it became too dangerous for us to stay so we decided to flee to Turkey. To do that we had to cross over into eastern Aleppo and that was when we saw the true meaning of war. In that part of the city, there was no life at all: people were just waiting for the airstrikes to finish and for another disaster to follow. Everything was destroyed. There was so little food and often no water at all. Everyone was wearing old clothes; there was nothing new here. And everyone carried guns — engineers, students, everyone.

We slept in a room in my brother’s hospital that night. As usual, the bombs began. The same bombs but this time we could have been the target. We left for Turkey first thing in the morning.

To cross between east and west Aleppo, you have to pass through a street everyone calls “Death Road”, where a sniper from the regime sits shooting around ten people a day who are just crossing the road. I made that journey twice. I returned briefly to Syria in October to collect my documents — certificates from the university and my passport. I couldn’t start studying in Turkey without them, my life there was on hold. 

In all the anxiety to get my documents I hadn’t realised I was wearing a bright red jacket. As we were leaving, someone called over to me saying “are you crazy wearing that? You will be an obvious target”. I managed to wrap my mum’s black shawl over my jacket and, when the road had been quiet for some time, we began to walk very quickly. You’re told you shouldn’t run.

I never wanted to leave my country, my home, but living in fear every day that you will be taken or killed is not a life. Everything has changed, you are always under fire. Any goals you had, anything you ever wanted to do are under fire as well.

One of my friends wrote to me this week: “We’re getting ready to die. Please do something. Call the world and tell them to stop the massacre.”

Amani Idlibi is now living safely in Turkey and has been able to start studying again. She is the family planning project coordinator at Syria Relief and Development, one of CARE International’s partners providing urgent medical care in northern Syria.