Lingering Questions Follow an Escape from Syria
By Claire Evans
09/12/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – A question mark follows Lina wherever she goes. She doesn’t know who kidnapped her husband the first time. She doesn’t know who threatened to kill her son. Her husband’s second disappearance remains a mystery. She doesn’t recognize the man stalking her.
But there is one thing she does know—life is exhausting, and it wasn’t always that way.
Before civil war erupted in Syria eight years ago, Lina lived a comfortable life with her husband. Although she had a one-year-old son, she managed a successful hairdressing business. Meanwhile, Lina’s husband worked as an international merchant.
The war suddenly brought normal life to a halt. Two years later, Lina had another son and the family was fleeing their home.
They settled into a new village, but quickly realized that safety was fleeting. Again, the war closed around them. The conflict was evolving faster than the family could understand. It was impossible to keep track of community allegiances. Was it ISIS? Was it al-Nusra? Was it the government? No one knew.
Despite these challenges, Lina and her family managed to live in relative safety for a year. But everything changed when her husband was kidnapped. The war had created a sense of hyperawareness in everyone. People knew her husband was a merchant—and wanted his money.
“He was kidnapped and they asked for money to release him, since he had a good job,” remembered Lina. “We paid about $40,000 to get him back. $40,000! It’s a lot of money… When he was released, he was beaten, and he needed treatment to his eyes and ribs.”
Her husband thought he recognized his kidnappers as individuals affiliated with the government, and made a claim about the abuse he received. The kidnappers went to jail for just a few months, and Lina’s entire family moved to Lebanon. For two and a half years, they remained abroad, worried about what awaited them if they ever returned home. They would soon find out, as their finances were quickly draining.
Lebanon is expensive, so the family begrudgingly returned home to Syria. The kidnappers were waiting. Lina said, “They started threatening him, because he had made a claim against the government. They told him that they are not supposed to do that.”
The nightmare of pursuit continued in the form of another kidnapping. This time, they took Lina’s son. “They kidnapped George from school, and he stayed with them for one day,” said Lina. “Then, they sent him back, and we found him standing close to a supermarket. They put a piece of paper in his schoolbag and had [written]: ‘This time we send him back with nothing. Next time, we will kill him.’”
This was the last straw. The family knew that Syria was no longer safe, but also that they could not afford Lebanon. They could think of only one other option: flee to Iraq. Most Christians were leaving Iraq; who would look for them there?
“They put a piece of paper in his schoolbag and had [written]: ‘This time we send him back with nothing. Next time, we will kill him.’”
So the family gathered their few meager belongings which remained, and traveled to the Damascus airport. It was the last trip they would ever take together. Women and men are segregated through airport security. Lina expected to see her husband on the other side. But he never appeared. “They told my husband that he was overweight and needed to go through the process of paying fines. I haven’t seen him since. He got kidnapped from the airport.”
Lina knew something was wrong. Her husband wasn’t overweight, and there was no reason for him to vanish inside an airport. She took her children, and ran.
Last October, Lina and the children made it to Iraq. But the nightmare followed her. A strange voicemail appeared on her phone: “Mrs. Lina, I wanted to inform you that we have become close to you, close to where you live. I know that you are there with your kids. We didn’t forget what you have done in Syria. Everything is documented here… We also know where and when you get in and out, and will follow you to the last edge of this world.”
Terrified and confused, Lina changed her phone number. But somehow, the messages continued: “I have hated Christians since I was born. Your husband is still with us. Do you think we can’t find you if you come to (Iraq)? I know your kids’ names.”
The messages simply wouldn’t stop. Lina felt haunted, and several times thought she noticed strange men following her. The stress was constant.
ICC discovered Lina’s story while meeting with other refugees. She was convinced that ISIS was working with the Syrian government, and the militants had followed her to Iraq. Her history, the threatening voicemails, and the callers’ knowledge of Lina’s movements were deeply worrisome. Ensuring Lina’s safety became a priority. Our team immediately went to work ensuring that she was safely established in a secure location.
Although her situation significantly improved in her new home and she has now found a Christian community, difficult questions will continue to haunt Lina. Will she ever see her husband again? Who made such an intense effort to persecute her family? What kind of life will her children have as refugees in a foreign country?
Lina may never know the answers to such questions. But one answer is known. For today, Lina and her two sons are safe.
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