Only in their dreams: Syrian refugees look to a future return

By Mary Kate MacIsaac, CARE Regional Syria Response Communications Coordinator

As a small child, Helen loved playing with her friends and cousins. Her fondest memory of home is the swing they had in the family yard.

“I played on that swing everyday – I played every chance I had.”

That was five years ago. Today there is no swing, and her friends have had to flee in separate directions. Helen is only 12 year old, but she behaves older than her years. She cares for her siblings, and they care for each other.

“All of them help, they take care of each other,” Helen's mother Miriam says, explaining the relationships between her six children.

Her four youngest, including Helen, are playing quietly in a room, rolling a ball between themselves, occupying their time while caring for theire youngest brother, one year-old, Qasem. When he grows tired of the game, one sibling pulls him close to cuddle him. When he bumps his head, another sibling picks him up and comforts him.

Today, the family lives in a rented apartment in Zarqa, Jordan. They hadn’t planned to flee their home in rural Homs, in Syria, but following a massacre in a nearby village, warring groups grew closer and there was little choice. Miriam calmly describes the two weeks they were trapped in their home, listening to the battle around them. One day, the militia began broadcasting that they would soon take the town.

“They were threatening to rape and abduct women and children,” she says, numb with the memory.

Families, including Miriam’s, knew they must flee.

“We made the journey without my husband,” she says, recalling the day they left. “All of the women from our family went together early in the morning at 5am. Because we were only women, it was easier for us to move through checkpoints.”

They walked for an hour between farms before reaching the Jordanian border. It was 2am when they arrived at Zaatari refugee camp.

“Sometimes I dream and I don’t want to wake up. I wish to stay in my dream. It gives my soul rest. I dream that I am sleeping in my home. I smell the same air of home,” Miriam says with passion. “I feel the warmth of the sun, I touch the soil, and I hear the song of the birds, the chickens. In my dream, I wake and my neighbour will call on me, or I’ll call on her. We’ll take our coffee together on the land between our homes. Dreaming this, I don’t ever want to wake up.”

Her dream is a compelling reminder of the attachment we often have to home, not just property, but to friends, family, memories.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that when Miriam and her family were offered resettlement, they refused.

“We still have hope that we will return to Syria. Even if we could go to Dara’a, in the south – if the bombing would stop, we would go there. While the security is better in Jordan, and my family and children are around me, I cannot feel truly safe or comfortable. I prefer to return to Syria, to return home. It’s better than to go some place we do not know and where we will have to start again,” Miriam explains.

When Mariam first arrived, without her husband, she had to find ways to support them. “I took small jobs cooking for other families.”

Previously, her husband had been the family’s only wage earner.

Her mother-in-law calls her a strong woman, but Miriam shrugs.

“Why am I strong? Because I care for my children, for my husband?” she shakes her head. “It’s my way. I concentrate on how to best treat my children, to raise them properly. My mother-in-law notices that I do this differently from others. But for me, it’s the only way.”

Strong like her mother, little Helen dreams of becoming a lawyer. Miriam says perhaps it is so she can fight for people’s rights. Helen smiles shyly, while cuddling one year-old Qasem on her lap.

As the war in Syria enters its seventh year, Miriam recounts what most refugees share.

“We only wish to return to Syria, to our village, with our family, our neighbours, my children. We have had enough war. It is time to live.”

This is Miriam's plan – but sadly for for now, it remains a dream.

Learn more about how CARE is helping Syrian refugees. You can help support Syrian families fleeing conflict.