The author is Sami, an activist who lives with his parents and a brother in Inshaat, a suburb of the central city of Homs. Government forces shelled portions of Inshaat and the nearby suburb of Baba Amr for a month before driving out Free Syrian Army rebels. Two UN monitors were in Inshaat recently to monitor the April 12 ceasefire.

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Sami in Inshaat, April 27, 2012

Witness: You have told me you are working with refugees now. Tell me what’s happening.

Sami:  It’s all about my small neighborhood called Inshaat. How life dramatically changed in it in a few weeks.

First, you have to know that my neighborhood of Inshaat was a very wealthy and fancy area in Homs. It was peaceful then under Free Syrian Army control, then a war zone, then under regime control and now a refugee camp. How strange to see your town empty from most citizens and in just a few days it turns into big refugee camp for other neighborhoods.

Witness: I saw ads for the Safir Hotel in Inshaat on the Internet.  Is it a fancy hotel? Is it still open? Do they have power and water?

Sami:  It’s the same hotel that UN observers are in now.

Witness:  Tell me about the UN observers? Have you seen them?

CHILD.HOMS ..finalinsert SYRIA WITNESS: Shattered Homs Suburb Hosts Refugees, UN Monitors

A child from Homs fled with family to refugee center on Lebanese border (AFP)

Sami: The Safir Hotel is not far from my house. There are two observers there. I don’t know what they are doing after two days of their coming. I didn’t see them move in the city. The nearest school where we have refugees falls three streets from where UN observers are, but they didn’t visit yet.

But even with the presence of UN observers, snipers didn’t stop shooting at anything that moves in some parts of Homs and even the tanks and heavy weapons haven’t been taken out from our city as the Kofi Annan plan says.

The regime has changed Homs totally from before they came. Imagine. They washed streets and they cleaned trash that has stayed for weeks in Homs. They even brought back public buses to work even though most main streets in the city are still closed until this moment. The government also opened the university in the city before observers came to show them that life is normal.

Witness: Where did the refugees come from?

Sami: Most refugees came from the north part of Homs, parts of Khalidiya, Bayada and some Qsour. Some of them come from Baba Amr and some from parts of old city like Bab Al Dreib.

Witness: What are conditions like now for the refugees?

Sami: Some of them sit in relatives’ houses, some in schools which we opened as refugee camps. Many people have shared their homes and many houses contain now two, three or even four families.

I think there are a huge number in our schools. They sit in schools where we have provided them things like clothes food water and lights. Neighbors help with feeding, teaching children in some classes and sometimes they spend the night with them in the schools.

Witness: Is the Red Crescent there? Any international NGOs?

Sami: No, no. Not Red Crescent or any others are organizing. All who work have volunteered. Most are young men and women from Inshaat.

In the last operation government soldiers stole almost everything. Electrical appliances, furniture, clothing and accessories from luxury homes. We were lucky that we stayed at our home because they have stolen from every empty house they could everything such as gold, money or very expensive things.

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Commercial districts of Homs purportedly shattered by government bombardments over several weeks. (AFP/Shaam)

I can’t forget the look of the tanks that were carrying stolen furniture. It was funny and sad in the same time. A lot of houses became totally empty.

Witness:  Describe Inshaat. Do you still have many friends there?

SamiDo I have friends in Inshaat! All my friends are from here. I have spent all my life here. It was a medium neighborhood with high, nice buildings, good streets, and gardens. Rich people bought houses here.

Baba Amr is a nearby neighborhood to us and was one of most important centers of Free Syrian Army in Syria. When the last government operation began on Baba Amr it also began on Inshaat.

So some very important people from Inshaat asked a big colonel in the Assad army, “Why are they shelling Inshaat and destroying it?”

He said, “Because in the first of revolution protesters of Inshaat raised their shoes to Bashar Al Assad.”

In Arabic culture, raising your shoes means a big insulting. Inshaat was the first area in Syria where protesters raised their shoes to Assad. That was in last May and they came to seek revenge from us in February.

Well, Inshaat now is two parts: the east which didn’t get shelled so much and which most refugees are in now and the west, which had the most shelling and most of its residents didn’t come back yet. What is between the east and west part is a street called Barazil.  There are now five checkpoints in Barazil.

I saw how streets were empty and there was no food or bread and then thousands of people came to here when shelling started in the old city of Homs and on the north. Inshaat then filled with refugees.

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New comment and video from Inshaat and Homs

New comment and video from Inshaat and Homs

New comment and video from Inshaat and Homs

New comment and video from Inshaat and Homs

New comment and video from Inshaat and Homs

New comment and video from Inshaat and Homs

 SYRIA WITNESS: Shattered Homs Suburb Hosts Refugees, UN Monitors

David Arnold

David Arnold coordinates the Syria Witness project at Middle East Voices and reports on Middle East and North Africa affairs for both Voice of America and MEV. The Syria Witness project publishes on-the-ground citizen reporting, giving Syrians the opportunity to offer to a global audience their first-person narratives of life on the streets of their war-torn country.