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New orphans

Najiba Abdul Rahman

From Jisr al-Shughour, Syria

now in Oncupinar Camp, Turkey

Left Syria June 2011

War makes orphans, so grandmother Najiba Abdul Rahman has two new toddlers to take care of.

A year ago, in November 2012, her 25-year-old son, a brigade commander in the Free Syrian Army, was shot and killed by Syrian government troops. He left behind a week-old daughter and a year-old son.

Their mother couldn’t cope, so she came to Abdul Rahman, turned over her children and left for good. Abdul Rahman, 56, says it is not a decision she would have made, but war and poverty make people do things. So without a second thought, she took in the two babies.

“I wish that I will have a long life so I can raise the children until they are strong enough to protect themselves,” she says. She is mainly stoic when she describes her situation, but speaking about the children’s future starts her sobbing.

They now live together in a trailer in the Oncupinar camp, home to more than 14,000 Syrian refugees just inside the Turkish border near the town of Kilis. Ten of them cram into the two-room trailer — Abdul Rahman and her husband, a daughter and her family, plus the two children.

The little boy, Ahmed, kicks a half-deflated plastic soccer ball around in the small, fenced-in area in front of the trailer, shaded by a blue plastic tarp. His sister, now nearly a year old, squirms in her grandmother’s lap.

As she speaks, a crowd gathers in the street in front of her trailer, looking up at the Syrian hills that loom over the camp. They watch as Syrian forces and rebels fire at each other, the sun glinting off their trucks, and the deep boom-boom of shelling rumbles through the camp.

Abdul Rahman is trying to create as normal a life as possible for the children. She knows they could be here for many years, so she has made it feel like home, with lots of toys. The kids have decorated the outside of the trailer, at child’s-eye height, with cheery stickers: the Tasmanian Devil, Donald Duck, Simba from “The Lion King.”

“For us, this is a good place,” she says. “I know I can’t go home soon. It’s not safe, and it’s not livable. I know my house has been destroyed. But I still have a piece of land there, and at the end of the day it’s still my country.”

Abdul Rahman has a second son who was also shot in the war. He has severe damage to his liver, and he is in a hospital in Istanbul waiting for surgery. She is not sure he will survive. His wife and two small children live in the trailer next door.

She fled Syria in June 2011, so she is in her third year living in camps. She started in a camp in Hatay, farther west in Turkey, and moved here two years ago because she heard the conditions were better.

Now she passes her days baking bread, mourning her dead son, worrying about her wounded son and trying to raise two small children who will never know their parents, and maybe not their country.


“I believe that God will stand with me,” says Abdul Rahman, who seems to accept her fate as easily as she might accept a cold. “I’m not paying that much because of the war. A lot of families have sad stories.”

Hers could get worse. There are two people missing from her trailer: her husband and her son-in-law, who has four small children. Both of them are in Syria fighting with the rebels, and no one has heard from them in a while.

Every day, about 3,000 Syrians leave the country.

Since you started reading, roughly ## Syrians have left the country.