World

Syria crisis: To stay or to go?

Family tents at Domiz refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan
Image caption Ahmed says his three-month-old daughter has developed lung problems at Domiz refeugee camp

About two million people are thought to have left Syria to escape the civil war.

Many of those who left are living in refugee camps.

Damascus residents tell BBC News why they chose to stay or to leave their homes and how they are faring.

Ahmed, a 35-year-old refugee in Domiz camp in Iraqi Kurdistan

We lived in southern Damascus about five minutes from the old city. The building next to us was bombed and my shop was bombed too. It wasn't safe so we left for a refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan.

I found work in a restaurant and my boys, who are 18, came to work with me but they left at the start of winter last year.

They said they would prefer to die in Syria. When they left for Damascus they didn't tell me they were going. There is no money transfer system as such, but I send them money and they live on that.

I have a three-month-old girl, Jaylan, who was born in the camp. It's like a desert and I'm worried about the dust. Most of the kids have asthma, but the officials don't care.

I can't go back to Damascus because there is no work. It's not safe and we have no home to go back to.

Here we have a tent. There is no bathroom, no beds, and my daughter sleeps on the ground between myself and my wife but the tent has a zipper to be a bit more private. If we had the money we would leave.

Ismail, a 24-year-old language teacher, living in exile in Turkey

Back in April 2011 I was living in the old city in Damascus in a big shared house, going to university and working as a language teacher.

I met a guy who said he wrote for Human Rights Watch. He was married to an Alawite girl but lived in Lebanon and had come to visit her. We got talking and I told him about a Kurdish demonstration at the university against Assad.

He recorded the event, just people's voices though so it was less risky, but the regime got him and put him in jail. They interrogated him and eventually he was released and went back to Lebanon.

He said everyone around him was now in danger and asked me to leave Syria. I said I'm not going to leave the country I am living in.

His wife knew everything about me, even though I hadn't spoken to her much at all. I never suspected she would be a threat to me but she was the daughter of someone fairly high up in the military and after her husband left she said she was going to shop me to the regime. She threatened me and I knew I had to leave.

I left in June 2011 with my laptop and phone and nothing else. I got in a taxi and went through the checkpoint to Jordan and my friends collected my clothes and things and sent them on to me.

I got a job teaching Arabic to English people in Jordan. There were no restrictions on people coming and going from Syria at the time. But then I had some problems renewing my passport after a year.

My father is originally from the Kurdish area of Turkey so I went to Turkey to see if I could get a Turkish passport but they didn't let me. So I flew back to Jordan, but the officials at Queen Alia airport said I was not allowed to enter Jordan, even though I had been living there and I had a job. They held me in a room and told me they would put me on a plane back to Syria.

Image caption Ismail says he was held at a Jordanian airport and threatened with deportation

I was kept in a kind of cell for 24 hours, along with some women and children and other men. The only thing we had in common was we were from countries that had experienced Arab Springs; Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen and Syria.

They took people away to board planes for Syria, even though they knew we could be killed when we got there. Luckily my friends managed to get me a plane ticket for Istanbul, so they let me go.

I enrolled at a university in Istanbul and they gave me a student visa, but now that is coming to an end. I don't know where I will go next, but I can't go back to Syria.

I feel like the Syrian revolution died after six or eight months. What you now have is sectarian killing and fighting. The rebels don't support Syrians. They want to take us back 1,500 years to the times of Sharia law.

Samer al-Husain, a 29-year-old in Damascus

A mortar came down near the apartment two hours ago and I can hear shelling over the suburbs of Damascus right now, every few minutes.

Image caption Samer says shelling or clashes nearby are the only reason he would leave Damascus

You can't imagine it, but people are getting used to the war now. Although a lot of people are trying to run away, it's very difficult and many reasons force you to stick with your daily routine.

If I want to leave for another city, the situation is the same there, maybe even more dangerous. If I want to go to a refugee camp I might get killed on the way and if I arrive, I might die from floods or die in a fire like in the al-Zatari camp in Jordan. If I want to leave to another country nobody would host me because I am Syrian, although I am a professional and I have certificates and lots of experience.

To some extent life goes on in Damascus, but it's much more expensive. I go to work every day and I have a good income and am surviving on the minimum, but others can't find shelter, food and clothes.

People are living on relief from Syrians abroad, donations from people in other countries and help from international organisations.

Until now, life was going on almost as usual in cities like Damascus, Hama, some parts of Aleppo, Tartus, Latakia, and other "safe" cities. But Damascus is as dangerous as the countryside now where the chemical attacks happened. It is not dangerous because of the chemicals, but because of the explosions and mortars.

Shelling in Damascus is a worry for me, I have wife and she's pregnant. I guess I'm not afraid for myself as much as I am afraid for them.

I don't trust the FSA completely but it is still one million times better than the regime's army. I would even trust the Islamic warriors more, because they are faithful, although I am not religious.

Only shelling overhead or clashes in my neighbourhood would force me to leave Damascus.

Miriam, a 28-year-old mother-of-four, in al-Malikiyah, north-east Syria

Our life in Damascus was fine but then it quickly got really worse. We couldn't sleep. But then they closed the border. We left Damascus on 5 June 2013.

There is no work in Syria. My husband is working now in Cizre [in north-west Turkey close to the Syrian border]. He is in construction. He had his own tools but had to leave them behind and is now a labourer. He sends me and my children money out for living costs.

We live in a rented house. The camps are very bad. Every day we hear stories from the camp. There is no water, it's dusty and I've got little children. I want them to live like normal human beings.

The children will catch disease or infection in the camp. I prefer for us to die in Syria than in a camp.

Interviews by Sitala Peek

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