BACK safely in her native Selkirk from the blood-soaked streets of Damascus, Jane Newlands this week reflected ruefully on her enforced departure from strife-torn Syria.
With security forces stepping up their crackdown on protesters, Jane fears she may never be able to return to her beloved adopted country where she was employed under contract to the now-maligned government of president Bashar Assad.
Jane flew back to the UK last month with other ex-pats in an emergency exodus ordered by the British Embassy.
“The last five weeks before I left, since the orchestrated protests against the Assad regime began, were traumatic and soul- destroying,” said Jane, 45. “While I desperately want to return to a wonderful country which is very dear to me – and provides me with my livelihood – things are looking increasingly bleak. I feel in a state of limbo.”
She was commenting on Tuesday after Syrian security forces were reported to have arrested hundreds of activists and protesters in house-to-house raids in suburbs of the capital Damascas and villages around the southern flashpoint city of Daraa.
Human rights observers claimed President Assad had dispatched troops and tanks to crush the uprising, which has posed the most serious challenge to his family’s 40-year rule. An estimated 630 civilians have been killed during the revolt.
Since January, the former Selkirk High student and civil servant has been seconded to work on behalf of the Assad government, heading a £10million three-year project, funded by the EC, to reform Syria’s public finances.
Jane’s expertise as a public finance consultant has been deployed in many world trouble spots, including Lebanon, Croatia and Afghanistan. From 2005 to 2008 she worked in Syria on a three-year contract with her Netherlands-based company.
“I was delighted to be asked back for this new project because I fell in love with Syria first time round,” she said. “Not only was the work of my team important to the reconstruction of the country’s finances, but I made wonderful friends.
“Until the unrest started, I always felt I was in one of the friendliest, safest and most beautiful countries in the world, but of course, all that has changed.”
She became aware of the insurrection when a lock-down was imposed by the state, confining her to her rented home in West Mezzah, on the outskirts of Damascus, outwith working hours.
“I had a driver take me to and from work in the capital, but it was considered unsafe for any of my team, because of our connection with the Assad regime, to go on the streets at night.
“We basically lived in fear of the protesters who were armed and chanting about how they wanted all Christians, like myself, sent to Beirut [in Lebanon] and all Palestinians to be repatriated.
“I must admit that, when I got back to Selkirk, I was sceptical about the Western media’s presentation of Assad as a despot wreaking violence on his downtrodden people.
“While I remain unconvinced about the motives for the revolt and who is funding it and why, some of the images of dead protesters, particularly women, are frightening and, of course, totally unacceptable.
“I have been on the telephone to my team of Syrians in Damascaus and they want me back. My return air ticket, which I got because it was cheaper than a one-way, is due to expire on May 21, but unless the situation radically improves, which looks highly unlikely, I will not be on that flight.
“I now hear that our contract could be re-awarded by the European Commission to a Spanish firm, which makes no sense when the EU is stepping up its sanctions against the Assad regime and we were basically ordered out of the country by our own embassy. I had to leave my rented flat and only had time to pack a small suitcase”
While Jane awaits news, her return to Selkirk has, not surprisingly, been welcomed by her parents Jim and Bunty Newlands and her student daughter Lynsey, 21, who travelled from Stirling to see her mum last week.
“Obviously, when we were watched the television and YouTube coverage of the violence, we feared for Jane’s safety, so it’s great to have her home safe and sound,” said Jim.