Video: Iraqi refugees face difficulty in Syria

By Ann Curry
NBC News
updated 5/9/2007 5:01:58 AM ET 2007-05-09T09:01:58

In Damascus, there are now a million stories of refugees trying not to lose hope. Najaiba’s is one of them. At 67, she has been forced to start a new life.

Two years ago, her husband was killed when his Christian church was blown up in Baghdad. When the Shiite Muslims in her Baghdad neighborhood threatened to kill her if she didn't convert to Islam, she left with only the clothes on her back.

Home is now a two-room apartment in Damascus with nine family members squeezed in.

The rent is $300 a month, and the landlord says he will double it in June. What Najaiba can't do without is her kidney medicine, so every few days she goes to a free clinic to get her pills.

"They didn't give me the medication I need, and I don't have the money to buy some," she says.

The family's savings are already gone, and no one has a job. Syria doesn't allow the Iraqis to work here. Unemployment was already high before Iraqi refugees came flooding over the border. Meanwhile, Syria is already seeing the edges begin to fray.

"We are trying our best, but how much can we do?" says Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. "For this we are small country. We don't have a lot of resources."
 
We also met Ihab al-Jumaini at the free clinic. He, too, was looking for a little bit of hope — chemotherapy drugs for his son, Mustafa, just 3 years old and very sick with cancer. 

"We feel very, very low because we have no idea what the future holds for us, and to get the treatment he needs, we don't know where to turn to or to who," al-Jumaini says.

The doctors in Baghdad didn't have the drugs or the expertise, so a year ago, al-Jumaini sold all of his possessions and made the dangerous drive to Damascus.

Now, his world is a one-room apartment, he has no job and he's trying to cope with soaring food prices. Every month he has to go to the border to renew his visa. He says he can't sleep at night.

Al-Jumaini says they had no choice but to come to Syria. It was the only country that would let his family in. But doctors here tell him Mustafa may still die.

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