A 6 year-old Nadia and her brother Malek 2 have not seen grass, trees, a real bed, a park, a real meal, friends, or a real toy since October 24, 2015 when they were arrested with their parents by Syrian customs at "Al-Areada" checkpoint north of Tripoli, Lebanon..
On that dreadful day last October, Khaled Ali Al-Mahmoud, a 31-year-old Palestinian refugee from Ain El-Helwi camp in Lebanon was traveling by bus to Syria with his wife Wahiba Abujamous, their daughter Nadia, and their son Malek. The trip started in Beirut with two other cousins of Khaled (Mohammad Nour Nofal, 18, and 25-year-old Ghassan Khadir Danan) and 24 other passengers on the bus as well as the driver who were all Syrian nationals. The six Palestinians were arrested and all other passengers went through with no question asked.
Upon hearing this sad story, I was deeply concerned, especially with the two children and their mother behind bars. First thing I did was to get in contact with their Palestinian relatives in Ain El-Helwi refugee camp, which the largest refugee camp in Lebanon. I was able to gather more infomation and the reason behind their loved one's trip to Syria.
Since the Syrian embassy in Washington, D.C. was shut down due to the current crisis there, I decided to write the Permanent Syrian Mission at the United Nations to express my dire concern, especially about the status and welfare of the two children. As of now, no response to my inquiry and plea for help to the Syrian mission has been received.
Upon further research on this case, I discovered that all six people are being held by the Republican Guard and Army Elite Fourth Armored Division, which together with Syria's secret police, form the core of the country's security force. The Fourth Armored Division is headed by General Maher Assad, the brother of no other than the Syrian president Bashar Assad.
The real story about the trip of these six Palestinian refugees is like many other refugees in the region. They sold all of their personal belongings, borrowed money from friends and relatives to be able to pay $7,000 USD per person for a smuggler to get them away from war, death, destruction and poverty and to safety in Greece . The trip required them to travel to Turkey through Syria by land and from Turkey to Greece where they would have to take a boat.
According to their relatives, all six people entered Syria legally. The couples' phones as well as their cousins' were turned off. However, five days after the alleged arrest, their family was able to track down the bus driver in Alebo, Syria, who stated over his phone that the couple, their two children, and both cousins were detained at "Al-Areeda" check point. Now their relatives in Lebanon are panic-stricken and fear the worse.
The six Palestinians are now being detained in Syria and are being held on no charges and are ineligible for trial... it is just a unilateral Syrian decision to detain them. How can such cruel and inhumane treatment take place in a Muslim country and yet it claims to be democratic, is beyond me!
This act is illegal under Syrian law as well as international law. Had any of those people committed any crime, they should have been charged and their family notified and the children should have been returned to their relatives . Those six jailed Palestinians should have been offered a legal council to challenge their detention and their immediate relatives should have been notified about the arrest and not be left in the dark.
Let's assume for the sake of argument that those people are being held in Syria because they were planning to enter Europe illegally. How does that violate the Syrian law? The fact they entered Syria legally and never violated any other countries' laws on the day of their arrest, that would have made them innocent in any court of law. If human trafficking is an international crime, then the focus should be on the smugglers and ringleaders who benefit out of these crimes and not the victims.
During the 1982 Israeli invasion in Lebanon, my younger brother was abducted and detained in Lebanon by the Israeli Occupation Forces for 18 months. He was on a family reunion vacation with his German wife and daughter from Germany. I know the pain, fear, and agony that he and the rest of our family went through on a day-to-day basis during his captivity. I don't wish the same for my worse enemy.
These six prisoners should have been given an immediate independent legal counsel, as it is their right under Syrian, humanitarian, and international human rights law. A basic element of democracy requires Syria to either charge or release those six prisoners.
Readers who care about fairness, justice, and humanity can help by contacting the nearest Syrian diplomatic post and demanding the six prisoners' immediate and unconditional release. Syria will only stop its ugly and inhumane practice against Palestinians if we all stand up and demand it.
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