Eighteen-year-old Salwah Mekrsh is unable to walk. Her mother and her sister push Salwah’s wheelchair through the streets of Kilis, a Turkish city near the border with Syria.
The three of them stop under the shade of a lemon tree in a small courtyard. As Salwah waits for her mental health consultation in a specialized project supported by the Turkish NGO Helsinki Citizens' Assembly in collaboration with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to begin, they talk about how their lives have changed.
“Before the war, we used to have everything,” says Salwah, “but since it started we have suffered too much.”
Salwah was pressured into getting married shortly before the first protests began in Syria in March 2011. She was 15-years-old. Soon she became pregnant, and as the protests developed into all-out civil war, Salwah’s daughter was born.
After her husband tried to assault her, their marriage disintegrated, and he left, taking the baby. “He took my daughter and doesn’t let me see her,” says Salwah. “I have no way to contact them. I haven’t seen my daughter for a year.”
Salwah returned to live with her family in the old city of Aleppo, the industrial and economic capital of Syria. On 25 November 2012, Salwah was returning home with a neighbour. One of the streets leading to her house was closed, so they decided to take another route. As they set off across a square, a sniper shot Salwah in the back.
Rushed to hospital in Aleppo, the bullets in Salwah’s body were removed, but she was in a critical condition. Her family tried to send her to Turkey for medical care, but she was prevented from crossing the border. Then her family heard of a hospital in the area run by MSF and took her there.
MSF’s medical team was able to organise her referral to Kilis hospital, on the other side of the Syrian-Turkish border. Finally allowed to enter Turkey, Salwah was admitted first to Kilis hospital and later to a hospital in the province’s capital, Gaziantep. She spent 12 days in the intensive care unit.
"Now I feel better, but I can’t walk,” says Salwah. She is receiving support from Lina, one of the community health workers from the project. “Miss Lina told me the story of someone in her family with a similar problem, not related to the war. She gave him psychological support and now he is doing OK. Knowing this made me feel better.”
The psychologist is ready and the consultation can start. Salwah’s mother and sister wait for her outside, sitting under the lemon tree and smoking. When the sun goes down, they will go to the apartment they have rented in Kilis. They won’t have to hear the shelling and the bombs of Syria.
They won’t be afraid of losing their lives. However, the family would like to go back home. Where will they be living the next time we meet? “In Aleppo, inshallah,” says Salwah’s mother.