Will I die alone in the desert?

Story and photos by Fatima Al-Asaad, Rukban Network

28 MARCH 2022

In Rukban camp, a place far from life in a remote desert area on the Syrian-Jordanian border, Abu Muhammad wanders on his crutch, his sixty-four years adding to the weight of his movement. He once had a home, a family, and life, and today he is alone, displaced, and besieged. Close by is death, death by violence, starvation, or pain. Closer than his wife and children, closer than hope, Abu Muhammad tells us:

‘To escape death, and in fear for my family’s safety, we came here in 2015. We intended to reach Jordan. The camps there had become a dream for us, but something happened that we did not expect. Waiting at the border turned into a semi-permanent residency. At first, we built modest tents. Over time, it turned into mud houses to help manage the harsh weather. It is very cold in winter, and very hot in summer.

‘This was not what I promised my children, so we borrowed some money to finance their trip to northern Syria. The conditions there are very bad, but compared to Rukban camp it is paradise. Their trip was very risky, very expensive, and the money was only enough for them.

‘My wife and I chose to stay here. The future of our children is the most important thing. After a long time saving us some money, I sent my wife to join my children, but the money was not enough for me to leave with her.

‘My two daughters got married there, and I was deprived of the chance to attend a wedding that I had imagined since they were children. I must be content only with pictures. I rejoice for them, and weep for me.

‘There are no good job opportunities in northern Syria, but my children are doing their best. What they send me I use to buy my food. I only have one meal a day, two eggs, a tomato, and some bread.

‘In the past I had an accident, and now I can’t walk well, so I can’t take care of myself well. I try as much as possible to clean some utensils and wash my clothes, but sometimes the cold prevents me from doing so. My eyes need surgery also, and there are no doctors or hospitals here, and medicine is scarce.

‘Rukban camp is in the desert. Nature does not offer us much here. We don’t have trees to cut firewood. For cooking and heating, we use nylon cloth and rubber tyres for burning. The smoke of these materials caused serious harm to the family, especially my wife.

‘There is no electricity. I use the lighter light at night, and I try to sleep early, but for the fact that I keep thinking over my life in the dark. It has led to this. And every night I ask myself, will I die alone and be buried here in the desert?’