Monday, 1 December 2014

Amjad returns to life

This article was published by UNHCR as part of a series of refugee profiles. 

Amjad was killed two years ago at the age of 21, while studying international relations in Damascus. Government soldiers used him as a human shield as they went from door to door in his apartment building, looking for opposition fighters. Amjad says they found no-one. Nis neighbours had all fled.

When they were finished, they motioned him into a dimly lit bathroom and shot him five times with a Kalashnikov. He fell to the floor covered in blood, but because his side had been turned to the platoon officer who had fired, most of the salvo had gone into his right arm and only one bullet had entered his torso. Two soldiers were left to give him the coup de grace.

The only reason Amjad is able to tell this tale is that he was extraordinarily lucky. “I pretended to be dead and listened to the two soldiers talking inside the flat. They were saying, ‘let’s check to see if he is still alive and finish him off,’” Amjad says. “They opened the door and saw me lying to one side. They kicked me to turn me face-up. I held my breath for 30 seconds, but I couldn’t do it for longer. They said, ‘he’s still alive, finish him.’ And they shot twice.”

The shots missed his head, which was slumped to his left, and went through the shoulder instead. “The distance [between the bullet and his head] was less than a centimetre,” he says. As he stood on the ferry dock in Mytilini harbour, he lifted his black T-shirt to display the entry and exit wounds on his left shoulder and in his right side.

Amjad had raised suspicion because he was also the sole occupant of an apartment building in the opposition-friendly Mohadamiyeh neighbourhood. After receiving medical treatment in Jordan, Amjad returned to continue working as a male nurse in a makeshift underground clinic sponsored by the Red Crescent.

He did not fight, he says, and did not treat any opposition fighters, only civilians. On his smartphone, he scrolls past photographs of his patients – mostly women and children struck by government ordnance. His own need for more sophisticated medical attention, and his desire to complete his degree, made him decide to leave. He cannot properly move his right arm and needs to remove internal prosthetics implanted during surgery in Jordan.

Perhaps it helps to survive this predicament that Amjad is twice a refugee. He was born to a Palestinian family, which had fled Israel for Lebanon, and fled again to Syria after the Sabra and Shatila camp massacres in September 1982.

Palestinians were welcomed in Syria under Hafez al Assad, father of today’s president, but they are now seen as upstarts. Amjad shows me an old photograph of Hafez al Assad honouring an uncle of his for helping to smuggle Palestinians out of Lebanon and into Syria. That uncle is now under arrest.

“Since I was 14 or 15 we all followed politics,” Amjad says when I ask him why he signed up for international relations, “so I chose it to help my people in the future.” When we spoke for the last time he was on his way to Germany, but was keeping his options open. “I could live in any country as long as I have dignity,” he said.

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