Al-Ezz bin Abdul Salam Brigade fighters follow a briefing at their base in Syria's Latakia province, April 23, 2013
Rebel fighters of the al-Ezz bin Abdul Salam Brigade take part in a briefing at the brigade's base at an undisclosed location near the al-Turkman mountains in Syria's northern Latakia province on April 23, 2013. Crouching, belly-crawling into sniper nests in their rugged mountain redoubt, Syrian rebels have started training for a prolonged guerilla war against stubbornly resilient regime forces. © Miguel Medina - AFP/File
Al-Ezz bin Abdul Salam Brigade fighters follow a briefing at their base in Syria's Latakia province, April 23, 2013
Abdulhamid Elshami
Last updated: June 20, 2013

Syrian refugees in Egypt return home to fight

Banner Icon Many young Syrians who have arrived in Cairo as refugees want to get back to fight the Assad regime, reports Abdulhamid Elshami.

 “My morals are very low, no one is feeling for the Syrians, I would like to return and take up arms,” pale-faced but wiry figure, 19 year-old Basel said.

Like other refugees interviewed, he uses a pseudonym on social media out of concern for his family’s safety inside Syria. The young Syrian was a footballer in the local team in the city of Homs before fleeing the country more than a year ago, imagining that he would return after few months.

“My father pressured me (to leave) and I left because I was fearing about my family’s safety.”

After failing to get to Jordan for better job opportunities, he took refuge in Egypt. However, the Arab World’s most populous country is struggling with its own internal and economic problems and was not the best option for Basel and other young Syrian refugees.

During a fundraising event for the Syrian refugees in the Egyptian capital on May 8, Mohamed Dayri, regional representative for UNHCR said that 62,000 Syrians have registered or are waiting to register with the UN body, warning that if the influx of refugees continues the figure will hit 100,000 soon. However, Egyptian officials say there are now more than 150,000 Syrian refugees based in Egypt.

In its report published on January 31, the UNHCR Cairo called for USD 10 million in aid to assist Syrians in Egypt.

Young men wishing to get back have to meet a selection criteria

Around 20 percent of the young Syrian men living in Egypt are trying to return, according to veteran Syrian opposition member Abu Samer, who is based in West Cairo where a “little Syria” has been carved out. Abu Samer has set up a business in Egypt and on top of his work he facilitates the return of young Syrians wishing to fight in Syria.

“Many young Syrians came to me wanting to go back and perform jihad,” Abu Samer said explaining that the phenomenon has increased recently after the death toll has been rising steadily in Syria.

One of the young men who are waiting to receive the support of returning back is 18-year old Abu Baker.

“I am going back very soon with the kind help of Abu Samer,” he said. “I can’t bear anymore sitting here watching news of people being killed in Syria.”

The death toll in Syria is an average of 200 deaths a day. According to the UN, more than 70,000 people have been killed in the two-year rebellion. Hundreds of young men between 20 and 35 years old approached Abu Samer to help them return.

“A 23-year-old woman from Homs requested from me to return after her brother and her son have martyred,” Abu Samer said. 

Abu Samer who comes from a well-off family in Damascus, was leading anti-regime activities before fleeing to Egypt. He was detained five times and still suffering in his spine from the torture and whipping he was subjected to behind bars.

“In the intelligence of the air security branch, they put water under me and electrocuted the water,” he said. “Until now I wake up from sleep out of pain and terror.” 

Abu Samer is still active and in contact with the rebels inside, sending in fighters and support. He pledges to help the families in financial need who agree to send their sons for the fight – paying them a monthly salary. Even his own son was fighting in Syria with the FSA but was shot in the leg and taken outside the country for treatment.

Even though it could appear disorganized, sending people to fight is not a messy business for Abu Samer. Young men wishing to get back have to meet a selection criteria.

First, they need to be fit and over 20 years old and militarily literate so that they can use weapons. Abu Samer explained that they would meet the person and collect all data to make sure they are qualified militarily and health-wise. All Syrian young men – except an only child – have to perform compulsory military service under the Baath regime in Syria.

Most importantly, applicants need to get their parents’ consent for them to be allowed to join the FSA. “If the parents say no, they are definitely not going back,” Abu Samer concluded.

Then a check is done on the people applying, asking about their current residence and where they used to live inside Syria, finding out about their political history, and whether they are affiliated with the regime.

Finally, they identify where they need fighters in Syria and the concerned operating battalion is contacted to manage the entry of the new fighters arriving through the liberated areas.

Although two young Syrians for whom Abu Samer facilitated a return have died and three have been injured, the 50-year-old does not have any regrets.

“I wish I was fit to go and get martyred with them. If I had 10 children I would send them to fight.”

Even though Abu Samer supports the FSA, he does not approve having foreign jihadists fighting on the ground in Syria. He admitted receiving requests from such individuals who wished to join the fight but declined to support them.

“I am convinced that no one can liberate Syria but Syrians.”

Abdulhamid Elshami is the pen name of a Syrian journalist currently based in Cairo.

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