Conditions on aid trip to homeland broke my heart
A restaurant owner who has returned from a humanitarian aid mission to his Syrian homeland has spoken of the constant fear their convoy would be bombed.
Jamal Ibrahim, who runs Tarboush Cafe, in Market Street, Loughborough, drove an ambulance as part of a 10-vehicle convoy delivering medical aid to the war-torn country.
Father-of-three Mr Ibrahim, 43, witnessed hundreds of Syrian families climbing over mountains and hills to get into Turkey – only to be turned back by overstretched Turkish security forces.
He said: "People just slept on the hillsides – they wouldn't go back because it was too dangerous. Anyone not going through the official border crossing was turned back, including whole families with children.
"There are even young men on motorbikes taking passengers through the mountains into Turkey for 50 dollars, but they still might get turned back at the Turkish side.
"Turkey is doing the best it can, but the scale of the disaster is too big, it needs more than one country to handle it.
"The area in the north of Syria is run by the rebel Free Syrian Army.
"They welcomed us like heroes and while they offered us protection on the ground if we wanted it, there is no protection from the air.
"Syrian military jets had been bombing refugee camps on the Syrian side of the border. We saw military jet fighters in the skies and we were worried they could bomb us at any time."
The mission, run by the charity Hand in Hand for Syria, took him close to his home city of Idlib – where his family still lives under the control of the government-controlled Syrian Army.
He said: "My family had to come to meet me at the Turkish border because the government forces don't want people from outside delivering aid.
"At one of the refugee camps in Syria they told us about a young mother and her three children who died in a bombing raid on a village a few miles away.
"The conditions in the refugee camps are terrible, there's little or no water and food and people are living in tents – it's very, very hard.
"The camps are a place of relative safety, nothing else.
"The people are just coping with it, I found them very brave. All they want is to go back to their homes and live their lives in peace."
He also witnessed casualties coming across the border into Turkey from Syria including a young boy in a coma as a result of being poisoned by untreated water in one of the Syrian refugee camps, each housing 15,000 to 20,000 people.
He said: "It's hard to witness some of these scenes. As a father of three children myself, it broke my heart.
"I also saw young Syrian children begging in a Turkish town near the border. One was about nine years old, the same age as one of my daughters.
"I felt like she was one of my children and I took her into a cafe and bought her some food, but I felt helpless because that was one time I was able to help.
"The international community should be doing more to help people.
"Instead of being in school getting an education children are wandering the streets selling cigarettes.
"I felt we were doing some good for the people, but it is not enough. I will definitely go back when I'm needed."