On June 28, a missile fell on Saeed’s neighbor’s house in the town of El Taebah, in Syria’s Dera’a governorate. The explosion not only turned the house to rubble, it destroyed half of Saeed’s house—his children’s bedroom and the living room.
“My neighbors had fled just an hour before. I don’t know if they would have been alive if they had stayed,” Saeed tells me in a Skype call (he asked that I only use his first name, to protect his safety).
“When I calmed down from the shock and processed what had just happened, I decided to leave. I packed whatever we could fit into our car, and myself, my wife, and my six children drove south, hoping we could cross to Jordan the same day,” Saeed recalls.
The Dera’a region was facing the worst military attack since the rebels took over in 2012. By the beginning of July, dozens of people had been killed, including children. Most health and educational facilities in Dera’a, which is in the southern part of Syria bordering Jordan, were either closed or entirely out of service due to the widespread airstrikes.
According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the assault had forced more than 271,800 people to flee their homes as of July 2: 164,000 moved toward Quneitra, near the Israeli border, and 60,000 others ended up, like Saeed and his family, at the Jordanian border, hoping they would be allowed to cross (eventually, well over 300,000 fled). But officials in Jordan, which already hosts more than 650,000 Syrian refugees, will not allow any more to enter because of security and economic factors.
“But people had hoped this might change and the borders might open for children and women, at least,” Saeed tells me.
“We arrived midday at the free zone, near Naseeb’s crossing [a border crossing near the Syrian town of Naseeb, where there used to be a duty-free commercial zone]. The area was not prepared to host thousands of people. There was no bread, no clean drinking water, and it’s dry land, with no shade. We sat under makeshift tents, which we built with sheets we brought from home,” Saeed recalls.
“Two days later my children started to get sick. The combination of the extreme heat—it reaches above 110 degrees—and the lack of drinking water was deadly. My youngest daughter—she is 4 years old—had a fever and reached a point where she vomited everything she ate. When she started to hallucinate, I held her in my arms, pushed my way closer to the fence, and asked the Jordanian soldiers behind the barbed-wire to let her in. If they are scared of me, it’s fine, just take her in alone, she might die. I begged them.”