Saturday, 27 May 2017

'Throw him in the room of death'

(L-R) Yassine Alharaisi and his mum Nazira Hijazi, Mona Al Dafan and Chadi Amiri spoke at an event run by North Lanarkshire Council entitled For Humanity We Speak, held in Airdrie's Sir John Wilson town hall.

 ' “I remember being caught by tear gas used by the security forces. It burned your eyes and throat and we were scared that it was chemical weapons.”

 Words that no teenager should have to utter but the harsh reality of Yassine Alharaisi’s terrifying childhood in Syria. Yassine, Nazira and three other refugees – husband and wife Chadi and Mariam Amiri and Mona Al Dafan, who were among those provided with homes through North Lanarkshire’s Syrian refugee resettlement programme, took to the stage at Airdrie town hall last Thursday to share their memories of life in Syria – and thanked the people of Monklands for “making them feel welcome”.

 Mariam spoke of Syria being “a river of blood filled from women, the elderly and children” and highlighted that children “get killed every day from bombings and a lack of nutrition and medical care”.

 The sound of helicopter blades still fills Mariam with dread as every time she hears them “it says to my family and I, ‘I’m here to kill you all’.”

  But in a wonderfully upbeat conclusion to her story Mariam said: “In two months’ time I will be giving birth to my third child. I have a birthing plan already set up.”

 Mona shared her horrendous experience of finding out over the phone that her husband had been captured and killed, and how this made her lose “all hope and life”.

 For Coatbridge-based Nazira, bringing up sons Yassine and Badr in Syria meant every day was potentially their last.

 The terrified trio’s family home was bombed twice and Nazira and Yassine were both poisoned by chemicals, “escaping death miraculously”.

 A typical school day at St Andrew’s High is a far cry from Yassine’s early teenage years:

 “I could not afford school because I had to work to pay for rent and food. Between the ages of 12 and 16 I had many different jobs. When I first started work I got paid very little. I usually worked 12 hours a day, sometimes longer.”

 Yassine also described some of the “very frightening” experiences he endured during his time in Syria:

 “I remember one night being in a shelter with many other people while bombs dropped by jet aeroplanes exploded outside. I have watched from a distance as buildings were blown up by missiles fired by heavy artillery. It is different from watching it in the movies.”

 The final speaker of the night was Chadi, who spoke with loud passion about his heart-breaking experience as a prisoner.

 Chadi was preparing to travel to Lebanon when he was captured at a security checkpoint and severely beaten.

 He said: “The beatings started to come faster; the voice said, ‘throw him in the room of death’. Then they started to taser me. When my family came to visit they weren’t allowed to see me until they paid money and I had to stay behind bars. I thought I was never going to leave this prison or get the opportunity to hug my unborn son. I was eventually released after payments were made and I couldn’t believe I was free. It was like I was born again. I cried happy tears for days until I met my family once more.

 The media and human rights groups are not allowed into the detention facilities so nobody can know the real story. The only window into this world is the stories of the lucky ones like me who get out to tell the tale.” '
Yassine Alharaisi addresses the audience

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