Missing Family Members A Dark Reality For Many Syrians

Asmaa, 5, and her two younger sisters in Saboura where they fled with their uncle after their parents disappeared. Their cousin seen with them (left). Copyright: Hussam Al-Saleh

As the Syrian conflict rages on, disappearances of family members has become a reality for thousands of people. Forty-two year-old Abu Hassan, who fled the violence in his rural home-town Al-Nashabeah, east of Damascus, and headed to the nearby town of Saboura, is still searching for his sister and her husband who went missing more than 18 months ago.

SABOURA, Syria – Almost a year and a half has passed since Abu Hassan’s sister and husband disappeared mysteriously in their hometown Al-Nashabeah. The transportation company employee fled his hometown with his own family, his aging parents and his three remaining sisters and their children. They all share a partly-built two-room apartment in Saboura in Rural Damascus.

What breaks his heart the most are the three daughters of his missing sister. “I don’t know what to say when they ask me where their parents are,” Abu Hassan said.
Abu Hassan’s missing brother-in-law, a farmer who grew vegetables and sold them in Damascus, had suddenly gone missing during a normal working day at his farm.

“My sister couldn’t believe it. ‘He is a farmer! Who could hurt a farmer?’ she kept repeating,” Abu Hassan said. The family expected he might have been kidnapped and waited for someone to call for ransom, but weeks passed and no one contacted them.

Almost 45 days after his brother-in-law went missing, Abu Hassan and his parents received the shocking news of his sister’s disappearance when neighbours brought his three nieces to him and told him that his sister never returned after going out to the market to buy some daily needs.

Fleeing To Safer Grounds

The impact of the parents’ disappearances on the lives of the three girls was devastating. Asmaa, the oldest at only 5 years of age and her younger sisters Salma and Zine are still crying and calling out for their mother. They went to sleep on empty stomachs during the first week their mother vanished.

For Abu Hassan, looking after his three nieces is a priority in the absence of their parents. The girls often accompany him to receive their WFP monthly food package. Abu Hassan and his family are among almost 4 million Syrians receiving WFP food assistance each month.

All Abu Hassan and his extended family hope for is to hear any news, good or bad, of his sister and her husband.

The case of Abu Hassan’s missing family members is not a unique one. Many more people don’t have the chance to tell their own stories of loved ones who have gone missing in Syria.