Everybody has his own story about how he escaped,” says Ahmad Odaimi, a Syrian doctor from Homs, now in exile in Turkey.
His began in the early days of the civil war when he covered shifts at a government hospital for a friend, a fellow doctor who would crawl through 100 metres of an excrement-filled sewer pipe to reach rebel territory and treat wounded fighters there.
Another friend with connections inside Syria’s security services warned Odaimi that his ruse had been discovered and he was wanted by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. He fled immediately to the opposition-controlled neighbourhood of al-Waer in central Homs, and eventually made it to Gaziantep in southeastern Turkey.
His father and two brothers are still in Syria. When the regime renewed its attack on the neighbourhood where they live, Odaimi found the stress made him lash out at his two small daughters. He took up smoking again to calm his nerves.
Jomah Alqasem escaped after his father died in a Syrian government prison.
He wasn’t an activist. “He was just an old man,” Alqasem says in a restaurant in Gaziantep, where he, too, now lives.