Syria refugee recalls 'beatings, whippings, electric shocks'
A Syrian refugee living in the UK has described how she was picked up by the country's secret police and then beaten and tortured before being freed in a prisoner swap.
The 30-year-old woman, who asked not to be named, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme she became involved in the country's civil war after helping peaceful demonstrators injured in the city of Homs.
Her comments come as the UNHCR hosts a conference in Geneva to discuss the resettlement of Syrian refugees.
She has been helped since her arrival in Britain by the group Citizens UK, which is calling for more Syrian refugees to be accommodated here.
She arrived in the UK in the summer of 2014 with several children, one of who is disabled.
The woman, from the Homs area, says she was not political and had never been involved in politics. But she told Today presenter Mishal Husain that she helped look after peaceful protesters injured by Syrian government forces in the city.
"When things started in Homs," she explained, "they opened fire on peaceful demonstrations. I saw the army, they had their weapons, they opened fire and they forced their way into the areas where we lived with their tanks and machinery. They bombarded our homes and fired on people directly. I saw massacres and I helped save a large number of injured casualties."
She fled the city but was eventually picked up by the regime's security police.
"I was subjected to torture, atrocities, insults… They were focusing on the psychological element - insults, humiliation - as a punishment because of what I had done."
But the scale of her treatment, she says, went much further.
"I was subjected to beatings, whippings, electric shocks. I was detained in a single cell, it was a horrible place under the ground. There were three floors - and I was kept there for one and half months."
After spending months in detention, she was found innocent after a trial in the country's terrorism court. Although she was freed, her ordeal was far from over.
"After the trial, I was kidnapped, me and others," she told the Today programme.
The woman and her children got out of Syria, entering Lebanon illegally and eventually finding their way into a refugee camp.
"The situation was very bad. We were suffering most of the time from hunger, we faced many difficulties living there, pollution was all over the camp, there was no clean water for drinking. There was some help from people who visited us but they gave us very little help."
Some friends helped her to get out of the camp and she rented a place with her children before applying to the UN Protection Office. She had no papers and could have been detained.
"There was no care for Syrians in Lebanon. I never had any assistance in Lebanon," she explains.
Then she found that, as she had been a detainee in Syria, had a handicapped child and was living on her own with her children, she and her family were eligible for resettlement in the UK.
The woman says her English neighbours have treated her with kindness and civility.
And she adds: "Security is the most important thing.
"As far as the language is concerned, I don't know how to deal with the situation here but I am trying to get used to it and coexist with British society."
Beyond that, she calls upon the UK to allow more Syrian refugees in.
Hope of return
"I wish the British government, the British people and all European people would take the largest number of Syrian refugees possible. That way, they would save a great number of children who have lost their parents, their fathers and mothers, from hunger, and homeless women who are suffering and can't even afford to support their children.
"I hope they help them to come here and get all the rights, securities and aid I have enjoyed here and which the British government has given me."
A spokesperson for the British government said: "The UK has been at the forefront of the international response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, having pledged £700m, making us the second largest bilateral donor.
"Our support has reached hundreds of thousands of people across Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. Since the crisis began we have given sanctuary to more than 3,000 Syrian nationals and their dependants.
"In addition, through our Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme, we are working closely with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to identify those most at risk and bring them to the UK. The scheme is helping those in the greatest need, including people requiring urgent medical treatment and survivors of torture and violence.
"The UK has a proud history of offering asylum to those who need it most — there is no quota for from any nation and all applications are always considered on their individual needs."
But, despite her experiences, the woman says she still lives in hope of returning home.
"Syria is still in my heart and I look forward to when it is free from all the atrocities which are overwhelming it. I hope this regime will fall soon and then I will go back to my country."
You can hear the woman's interview with Mishal Husain on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, at 08:10 GMT on Tuesday 9 December.