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In Photos: A Timeline of War in Syria Through the Eyes of Children

March 15, 2023 marks 12 years since nationwide protests in Syria descended into a deadly conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands, displaced millions of children and their families, and decimated Syria’s economy and infrastructure. 

Save the Children has been there for Syrian children since the beginning of the war in Syria. We will be there for as long as they need us.

Here, we hear directly from children how every aspect of their lives has been torn apart. 

Photo credit: Stefanie Glinski / Save the Children

2011: Protests become the catalyst for a decade of conflict in Syria

As violence erupts, families begin to gradually flee the country in a bid to find safety. Children’s lives are turned upside down, whether they remain in Syria or cross its borders. 

“In Syria I was happy, I used to play football and other games. Then the violence started and they started to make us suffer. There was nothing that they did not use to hurt us with. I was terrified…I used to like hiding. Hiding is better than dying”. Nour, now 18, was 9 when she said this to Save the Children.

Photo:  Jonathan Hyams / Save the Children

2012: Children are victims of violent attacks

Fighting develops into a conflict that engulfs the entire country, with devastating results for children. In one massacre, 40 children are killed.

14-year-old Hassan, pictured above, recounts, “They walk the children in front of them to create a shield so they themselves will not be shot. They create a human shield of children.”

Photo credit: Jonathan Hyams / Save the Children

2013: Food shortages lead to malnourished children and desperate parents

More than 400 children are gassed, as chemical weapons are introduced and will continue to be used on civilians. As the war in Syria intensifies, food becomes scarce. Parents are running out of options to feed and protect their children. 

Shadia, pictured above with her 11-month old daughter Maya, told us: “We finally left when it was no longer just shells and shooting, but when the food ran out and there was hunger everywhere. Hunger and shells, no one can survive.” Maya was severely malnourished when the family fled Syria to Lebanon.

Syria, a boy in jeans sits on a rock on a hillside holds an instrument

Photo credit: Chris de Bode / Save the Children

2014: Brutal violence in Syria continues, forcing families to leave

The conflict becomes more complex, with ISIS forming in Syria. Airstrikes against ISIS destroy communities, leaving 150,000 women and children with nowhere safe to go. The numbers of displaced, both within Syria and outside its border, continue to rise every day. 

For 9-year-old Ali, pictured above, war has changed how he feels about the future. “I relive our escape every day. Sometimes I sit on a rock here and I look at the valley. I am so close to home, but so far away at the same time. It is unreachable, just like a new chance at happiness."

Photo credit: Ahmad Baroudi / Save the Children

2015: Children risk their lives to go to school.

Syrian families go to extreme lengths to find a place of safety, somewhere they can protect their children from the horrific impact of war. The world is shocked to hear the story of toddler Alan Kurdi, whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey after attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea with his father. 

Schools are not a safe space for children in Syria. Two missiles strike 7-year-old Khalid’s school in the Idlib countryside. One lands on the teacher’s room, killing three students and injuring six. The other missile falls just outside the school’s gate, injuring 50 children, 15 severely. Five children die and Khalid loses his hand.

Photo credit: Nour Wahid / Save the Children

2016: Conflict leaves children orphaned and alone

90 children are killed in Aleppo, where bombs and chemical weapons are reportedly being used. Tragically, 4.6 million people are living in besieged areas in dire conditions, where it is difficult and highly risky for humanitarian agencies to reach them. Many children have lost one or both parents, and some are left to fend for themselves.

14-year-old Asmaa, who fled Syria with her seven siblings after her mother died, sees this for herself, "There were so many children who lost their parents and they were left behind...they have nothing and they don’t have anyone to help them.”

2017: Prolonged war has a devastating effect on children’s mental health

The Syrian refugee crisis is now the largest since the Second World War. Within Syria there is no let up. Idlib again witnesses an escalation in conflict. The impact on children and their mental health is severe. Two-thirds of children in Syria are said to have lost a loved one, had their house damaged, or suffered conflict-related injuries. 

Schoolteacher Hisham explains the impact of the conflict on his children, including his 7-year old son Ibrahim, pictured above, “When the war first started, the children thought it was some kind of game. But then they started losing people they knew. This has had a huge impact on them. It’s impacted negatively on their habits in their daily life. They reached a point at which whatever they hear terrifies them or makes them want to run away.” 

Photo credit: Chris de Bode / Save the Children

2018: Continuing education whatever the circumstances

Eastern Ghouta faces the brunt of the conflict, with airstrikes becoming a daily occurrence. There are now 2.5 million child refugees who have left Syria and sought safety in neighboring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. 

7-year-old Noor fled Syria and ended up in Zaatari camp in Jordan with her mother. She remembers her father, “I remember that he gave me a purple sweater with purple hearts on it. I still wear it. Somebody came to my mum and told me my father had passed away. She didn't believe it at the beginning, so she went to check. Now he is in heaven.” 

Noor’s mother then abandoned her, leaving her to be raised by her grandmother.

Photo credit: Khalil Ashawi / Save the Children

2019: Children continue to feel the brutal effects of war

Half of Syria’s children have grown up knowing nothing but war, and 5 million children are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. 2019 sees more brutality as fighting in Idlib kills more children in just one month than in the whole of 2018. 

Jawad, aged 8, remembers playing with his toys, “My friend would come and bring the planes, he would bring his toys and we would play. But now there isn’t anyone to play with. They’re dead. They died after we were displaced. They were killed by strikes from the planes.”

2020: A pandemic wreaks further havoc on children’s lives

COVID-19 is preventing children getting an education. It is estimated 50% of children at school in North Syria have now dropped out of school.

Salam, 10 and Rami, 13 describe their feelings about COVID-19 as a lesser problem compared to “what we have seen so far: hunger, cold, migration, sieges, […] and other things we have suffered in Ghouta. This ‘corona’ [Coronavirus] is nothing compared to it.” However, they still worry fear its spread “because here we have no medicine”.

Northwest Syria, a little girl in a black winter coat, lives in a displacement camp

Photo credit: Hurras Network / Save the Children

2021: Save the Children continues to work tirelessly for the children of Syria

After ten years of war, children are calling for an end to the conflict. The costs of this war will be their responsibility to bear for the rest of their lives. 

“After ten years our future became all about war,” says 7-year old Laura*. When Lara was told that she was leaving her home in Idlib to escape violence and shelling, she put her toys in a bag and carried them with her during their journey. She decided to never open the bag of toys until her family would be back home. 

Save the Children has been working in Syria since 2012. We have been there for children throughout the war, and support refugees around the world.  With your help, we will continue to until every child is safe.

* Name changed for protection.