My life was shattered on September 14, 2014, when my son, Samer Reda Abdelfattah was seized by the Syrian regime. Samer was just 29 years old when he was detained. A father of three, he is a kind and respectful man, loved by everyone around him. His youngest child was only five months old when Samer was taken from us.
I will never forget the last time I heard from my son. He left our home early in the morning after the Fajr prayer. Samer worked as a bus driver and that day he was transporting students from Atarib to Mamoun University in Aleppo when he was stopped at a regime checkpoint and taken into custody. The last time we heard from Samer he was still at the checkpoint. His father called him at 11am to ask him to collect groceries from Aleppo on his way home. Samer acted as though nothing was happening, he had no reason to suspect otherwise.
Minutes later, we received a call from a man at the checkpoint. He told us Samer had been detained. My other son rushed to the checkpoint and begged for Samer’s release, but he was told to leave or risk being taken, too. It was heartbreaking for him to have to leave his brother in danger. The moment I heard the news that my son had been detained, my heart sank and I started to pray. I have not stopped praying since. We have tried everything to secure Samer’s release but military officials repeatedly tell us they don’t know why Samer has been taken and that we must wait.
Samer has now been gone for eight and a half years. Although we cannot be sure that he is alive, my heart tells me that he is. Ramazan is an especially difficult time for our family – I am filled with bittersweet memories of Samer. Our time together was always joyful, as he had a knack for telling jokes and lifting everyone’s spirits.
One of his favourite things about Ramazan was gathering around the iftar table with our family. He would often ask me to prepare him any dish with wings that could fly, and we would share a laugh over his love for grilled chicken. Samer also had a sweet tooth and adored knafeh, although he was always gracious when I made other desserts and said they were lovely.
He was a genuinely kind person, and his absence has left a void at our iftar table. To honour Samer’s memory, I prepare his favourite dishes and set aside his portion to donate to those in need. Four months ago, we received news from a former detainee from Daraa recently freed from Sednaya prison – Syria’s most notorious detention centre. He told us Samer was being held in an underground cell there. He said that while Samer had told him the names of his wife and two older children, he had forgotten the name of his youngest child. I wonder what those monsters did to my son in the al-Assad regime’s dungeons to make him forget his own son’s name.
Hearing news that he may be alive gave me some hope. Along with thousands of mothers whose children are forcibly disappeared or detained, I am waiting for my child to be released. Two and a half years ago I joined Families for Freedom, a women-led movement of Syrian families advocating for the freedom of all Syria’s disappeared sons and daughters, because I wanted to find solidarity in my struggle. With over 100,000 detainees and disappeared persons in Syria, I knew that I was not alone. Our goal as a movement is to bring attention to our loved ones who have gone missing and to fight tirelessly for their freedom.
We want our loved ones to know that we are doing everything in our power to bring them back, and we urge the international community to support us to pressure the Syrian government to release all detainees. One of the things we are calling for is for the United Nations to establish an independent and international institution that will help families like ours find out the whereabouts of their loved ones. Seeing my son free again sometimes feels like a distant dream, but the news of occasional releases keeps me holding onto the hope that one day I will receive a call or a knock on the door and it will be him.
Every day I wish he would come back, I wish I could see him and talk to him. My dear son Samer, you would be proud of your children; they are growing up to be good young men, just like you. Your memory always remains with me. I give zakat in your name, hoping that God will protect you and bring you back to us safely. I will keep fighting for you.
As we celebrate another Eid without him, I am reminded of his absence and long for his jokes and warm presence. My determination to see him again keeps me going, and I will not stop fighting until he and all detainees in Syria are free.