Eighty-year-old Palestine refugee Alia Shehabi moved in search of refuge with her family to the old city of Damascus when they left Palestine in 1948. A child of the Nakba, she grew up in Damascus, a city she loved. She never thought that in her old age, she, along with the rest of the Palestine refugee community, would be faced with yet another devastating conflict: the war in Syria.
Looking back at her time in the old city nostalgically, she describes the place through the inhabitants and the flowers. “I remember its every corner!” she says enthusiastically. She adds pensively, “People were friendly. There were beautiful gardens with flowers everywhere. These memories will always be on my mind.”
Alia spent important parts of her life in the old city. “I got married and raised my children there. I feel as if every wall and every surface tells the story of my life. The memories that I have from the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, especially during prayer time, are the ones that I shall always cherish," Alia notes. “Though we were living a simple life, we were really happy," she adds nostalgically.
Alia recounts her story while sitting on a metal chair in an office in the UNRWA distribution centre in Alliance, a neighbourhood bordering the old city. She is among the thousands of families who have had to flee Yarmouk after being trapped in the area for over eight months until the beginning of 2014. She fled when the situation became too dangerous and intolerable. Like many Palestine refugees in Syria, conflict conditions led Alia to move several times within Syria.
Alia now lives in relative safety in al-Zahera, a neighbourhood in Damascus. But, like many others, she is struggling to survive in Syria with rising prices, fuel scarcity, power outages and cold temperatures being part of her daily reality. “Even though we now live in relative safety, we still feel restless and fearful,” Alia says softly, with tears in her eyes.
The conflict has transformed city life. “Its bustling art and tourism scenes have disappeared. The streets are now quiet; there are no tourists. Each house hosts a displaced person or family," Alia sighs. “I hope the war will end and life returns to normal,” she says with a tired voice. “The image of the old city has stayed with me and I hope I will go back one back someday.”