Stories of Syrian Refugees
At least 7.6 million people, including 3.5 million children, are displaced within Syria and an increasing number are being forced into informal settlements with little access to even basic services. In addition, the UN High Commissioner of Refugees estimates that over 3.8 million people have fled Syria – to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.
What Syrian Children Go Through
Children remain the most vulnerable in this crisis. Over 5.6 million children need assistance, including almost 2 million who have sought refuge in neighboring countries, many of which are themselves under-resourced and struggling to meet basic needs. Children inside Syria tell us that they feel hopeless. They have witnessed their friends and families being killed. Their homes are now rubble. They are hungry, often sick. They can’t find clean water. Hospitals are barely functioning. Even if their school is still standing, it’s probably far too dangerous to attend. Without an option of education, children we interviewed say they are considering joining armed groups to make money, or to make them feel safer. Others are engaging in dangerous labor, or risk being married off early to help support their struggling families.
How Save the Children Has Shaped Refugee Stories
Save the Children has had programs in the Middle East for decades. Despite the danger inside Syria, we have reached over 1.1 million people, including over 570,000 children, with life-saving food baskets, education, health services, clean water, warm clothes and support for traumatized children. Across the region, over 2.3 million people, including over 1.5 million children, have benefited from our programs to date.
Some Highlights of Our Response Are:
- Supporting 59 schools in northern Syria where, to date, we have helped 34,500 children access pre-school and primary school
- Running alternative learning programs and informal education in refugee camps and host communities
- Supplying school bags, uniforms and other essential school materials, and paying school fees
- Supporting 1,000 teachers through training and salaries so that they can provide children with high quality education, even under the most difficult circumstances in Syria
- Providing safe play areas and access to counselling for thousands of children across the region
- Repairing damaged schools and providing equipment, furniture and learning materials
- Launching back-to-school campaigns to encourage parents to enroll their children
Refugee Child Stories
Sana and Her Sisters Had to Leave Syria
Sana* is three years old and fled Syria with her mother and three sisters. An increasingly brutal civil war is tearing Syria apart. One million people have now fled Syria and are sheltering in neighboring countries. Sana's 12 year old sister Yasmine* describes the reason the family left:
"We left Syria one week ago. There were so many explosions...so we had to leave Syria. What do I remember of Syria? I remember two things — our house being bombed, and not having any bread. Most of the houses were being hit. We had to stay in one room, all of us. The other rooms were being hit — shooting from the side of the other rooms. The bombs were hitting constantly, I was very scared."
Sana and her sisters were forced to live in one room for two weeks as their home was destroyed around them. Yasmine talks of her fear:
"I felt so afraid, I knew we could not move from that one room. There were 13 of us in total, crammed into one room. We did not leave that room for two weeks. It was always so loud."
All of the sisters were gathered at home one day, and saw their father killed outside their home. Yasmine describes that day:
"My father left the room. I watched my father leave, and watched as my father was shot outside our home. I started to cry, I was so sad. We were living a normal life. We had enough food, now we depend on others. Everything changed for me that day."
The family now live close to the Syria border in a neighboring country, in an informal settlement. Their tent is small, dank and dark, and none of the children are going to school. Their mother leaves them each day to try and find work in nearby towns, and to try and find food. Sana is deeply affected by what she witnessed and endured in Syria.
Save the Children has programs across different areas in Syria distributing essential life-saving items from warm coats, to food and safe water. We are also on the ground in Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, responding to the needs of Syrian children, their families and host communities. We are helping families to access basic services like healthcare, and are providing emergency food rations, emergency shelter kits and warm clothes. We are keeping children safe from harm and helping them to overcome their experiences by creating child friendly spaces, as well as helping children to access education.
*Names have been changed to protect identities
What Syrian Child Refugees Miss Most About Home
Save the Children has been working with the nearly 1 million Syrian refugee children in Turkey, providing them with access to psychosocial support and new clothing, as well as setting up “Child Friendly Spaces” –places that provide children affected by the conflict a comforting environment that helps them cope with the uncertainty around them, learn and play, and gives them the time and space to just be children. We recently asked these children what they missed most since leaving their homes – and what they like about the new places they are living now.
Joan, 5, left Syria and came to Turkey with his two sisters after his mother and older brother were killed, and his father disappeared. "I have drawn my home in Syria which I miss it a lot, and my older brother and my mother who died in Syria; I miss them both so much."
Husain, 11, is now living with his family in southern Turkey. "I love the playground in my school where I play with my friends Moaath and Abd. I have drawn my friends, they are happy because we are playing together in the sunshine."
Karam, 7, drew himself and his 6 year old sister, Lama, playing ball in their grandfather's garden in Syria. The garden was full of flowers and had a small lake where ducks swam.
Mahmoud, 10, drew a picture of a school named after himself because he dreams of one day opening his own school to ensure all children can study, like he is able to do.
Jad, 13 (center), is in the third grade at school. He and his 13 brothers and two sisters fled their home in Syria three years ago, moving from place to place to find somewhere safe to stay and eventually crossing the border to Turkey. "Today I drew my home, my street, our neighbor's homes, and the trees on the street. I haven't seen these for such a long time, for three years.In the future I want to become an inventor and create new and useful things for the world."
Tareq, 8, drew his two-story home and garden in Syria where he used to play football with his neighbors next to the apple tree. He now lives in a rented room with his 10 year old brother and mother where the electricity often cuts out and clean water is scarce.
Salma, 11, drew herself jumping rope and her favorite clown from a kid’s television show called ‘Asdikaa’ that she used to watch back in her home in Syria
Yara, 9 (center), came to Turkey two years ago from Syria with her parents and her four younger sisters and one younger brother. She said "I have drawn my home in Hama; our home is empty now because all of us are here, but I still miss everything that we left behind back there."
For two long years Yaser's* five children, Ali*, 15, Achmed*, 14, Hala*, 10, Sedra*, 7 and Aya*, 3, have not been able to go to school or play outside. Violence kept them from living a normal life. There was constant fear of sniper and missile attacks. They learned what type of weapon was being used just by the sound it made.
"Being scared was a permanent state of mind. I was always scared," said Achmed. "When I went to bed, I always wondered if I would wake up the next morning."
Eventually the violence became too much for Yaser and his wife, and they made the decision to uproot their family from their home in Syria in search of a better life in Germany. They were only able to make their long and difficult journey from sunset to sunrise so they would not be spotted. Young Hala lost her glasses during their trek.
"Everything is already strange, but now it is also blurry," she said. "It is very scary not to be able to see clearly."
They walked for days until they reached the boat that would carry them to Germany. The water was rough and the children were scared, but the family eventually made it. Now they must wait to register for asylum, a process that takes up to two weeks. During those two weeks the family must wait outside the registration center every day for their number to be called. There are no facilities or shelter from the rain.
"I am tired of waiting here all day. We just stand in the rain," said Achmed. "But I will tell you something: after everything we have been through, a bit of rain can’t hurt me anymore."
*Names have been changed to protect identities
Farah and Adnan's Story
Farah* and Adnan* led a comfortable, successful life in Syria. They had a large house overlooking the city where they lived with their two children, Fathi*, 3, and Zeinah*, 1. Farah was hoping to return to school to continue her education, which she put on hold after having her first child, and Adnan, an Arabic teacher, was pursuing a law degree. Their large, tight-knit family – Adnan has 8 sisters and 5 brothers and Farah has a large family as well – all lived nearby.
Then their house was seized by fighters because of its location. Soon after that is was destroyed. They were homeless and nearby cities were under attack. Before the bombings could start in their city, Farah and Adnan made the choice to leave their home in order to keep their children safe.
"My children were born in the city and my whole family lived there, but we had to flee to Turkey during one of the outbreaks of fighting," said Farah. "If we hadn’t left when we did we would have been killed along with so many other people. We left Syria at the right time."
Farah, Adnan and their children stayed in Turkey for one year before making the short but treacherous journey to Kos, Greece. Farah thought they would die on the boat there, and when they arrived they were often not treated well in their hotels and had to keep moving around. Farah estimates they spent almost $1,400 on hotel rooms their first week in Kos.
Spending money on hotels is not their only worry though. Both of their children desperately need to see a doctor.
"No one knows what is wrong with my son," Farah said. "His eyes are always inflamed, he has a sore throat and every night his nose bleeds. My baby [Zeinah] also needs a doctor as she is bow legged and needs her legs corrected."
Save the Children is giving Fathi and Zeinah the emotional and psychical support they need, but their journey is far from over. Farah and Adnan are soon leaving Greece to make their way to Germany, a nearly 2,000 mile trek. Farah is just ready to find a place to call home.
"I want to believe we can have a secure and peaceful life again."
*Names have been changed to protect identities
Surviving the Winter
In the midst of a bitter winter, Salim*, age 2, tries to stay warm at a refugee camp near the Syrian border. With temperatures nearing sub-zero, Salim will face this brutal winter in a snow covered tent with only the clothes on her back to keep warm.
The cold days are long, but the nights are always longer for Salim. When the sun goes down, the temperature drops, and she can feel the freezing air against her cheeks. She shivers to keep her body warm but with no blanket she has nothing to protect her from the cold air breezing through the tent. She is one of many children fighting to survive the winter in a refugee camp, and as the conditions turn treacherous, she is in desperate need of warm clothes, blankets and food.
Already refugee camps in neighboring countries have been buried by early snow storms, a warning to the residents of the harsh winter ahead. With conditions set to get worse over the coming months, refugees are continuing to flee Syria, increasing the demand for supplies. Children are the most vulnerable in refugee camps. They have been taken away from their homes, schools, friends and families, and have been forced to start new lives in strange environments.
Save the Children has been distributing kits containing winter clothing, blankets and items to reinforce shelters to help prepare families for the winter in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, and will continue to provide support to them over the winter.
Save the Children is also on the ground year round providing the basics children need, like food and blankets and offering programs to help them cope with tragedy. We have also established temporary learning centers where children can continue their education in safe and quality learning centers.
With your help children like Salim can get the supplies she needs to survive the winter, receive an education and learn to be a kid again.
*Children's names have been changed to protect their identity given the sensitive context.
One Sad Dark Night
By Walaa - a 17-year-old Syrian refugee living in East Amman, Jordan. She learnd English at school and wrote this article in English to mark 1000th day of the Syrian conflict.
One sad dark night, a night without a moon, I was with my family at my home in Syria and we were preparing a dinner to have a nice meal together. Suddenly the power goes off and darkness prevails, a moment later the sky lights up, but not by the moon but from an explosion.
Then all light is gone and all we can hear is screaming. Another explosion goes off and the screaming gets louder and louder. Death was around us, between us and we were waiting for our turn. My little brothers started to cry and I had to be strong for them, although I was afraid too.
The night of April 24th 2011, we left our house to find safety at our grandparents' house. On our journey, all we could see was death, all we could hear was screaming, and all we could smell was blood. Our house had gone and we were homeless.
After that night, for a year and a half, all nine of us lived in one room. Even that room they took from us, in a big explosion on a night like that night. And we left our grandparents' house for the same reason and came to Jordan. We left our schools, our education, our friends and we lost everything.
In Jordan we've had to change our house twice in just 3 months, as the houses are too expensive here and my parents cannot afford the rent. There is no school for us anymore, as our parents can't work here, because many Syrians are not allowed. We are not children anymore, we are old people in children's bodies.
The Syrian children are not thinking about having fun or playing or making friends, they have bigger things to worry about. All they are thinking about is how to sleep not hungry, not thirsty or not cold. And if they actually will have a place to sleep tomorrow or will they be on the street as their parents can no longer afford the rent.
When we went to register, there were a lot of people fighting. I can't blame them, they are afraid for their children. There were crowds of people there, crowds of children who have lost their education, their friends and their families.
Early marriage is happening more and more and girls are no longer able to continue their schooling. But at least we are safe here, the situation in Syria is becoming worse by the day. You see people living on streets as if they're in an apartment. Children are always crying because they are starving and almost dying from the cold. There they do not have the necessities for life. They are destitute, needing everything from a house to food, medical care and medicine, clothes, books, schools, a heater to keep them warm and even water.
The children do not ask to play and have fun or to study and learn, they simply ask for the right to a life.
I still cannot believe what has happened. It feels like a nightmare that I cannot wake up from. I wish anyone to wake me up from it. Is it true that I have left my house, my school, my family, my friends, and my country?
I can't stand living without my country. I can't continue to watch the Syrian people suffer anymore. It's been a thousand days and how much more suffering needs to happen before this conflict is over?
My friends and family still inside Syria, please forgive me for being safe while you are in great danger.
I ask to those who read this, please provide help to the people still inside Syria. They need help, more help than you can even imagine. A child deserves the right to live and a future, do they not?
A Child Refugee Puts Others Ahead of Himself
Despite his conditions of living as a Syrian child refugee, Ahmed runs the World Marathon Challenge in Iraq to protect the health of other children.
Ahmed* is one of the many Syrian children who had to flee their homes when the violence started inside Syria. Now Ahmed lives in a camp on the northern Iraqi border that was built for 10,000 and now holds close to 50,000 people-- almost half of them children.
This winter, too many children are living in freezing conditions in refugee camps – many having fled war-torn Syria with nothing but their summer clothes. Now living among frigid dunes, thousands of children are in desperate need of food, clothing, education, health care and help recovering from the trauma of war.
Save the Children is helping by providing education and play spaces for kids and improving the sanitation and health services for children. Ahmed* attends Save the Children 's programs at the camp - where he plays, learns and begins to recover. As hard as his life is in the refugee camps, he knows that there are children around the world who need his help to survive. That's why Ahmed was one of hundreds of Syrian refugee children who participated in our World Marathon Challenge to protect the health of little girls and boys who are at risk for preventable life-threatening illnesses.
If young children like Ahmed can overcome their challenges and volunteer to help vulnerable children, won 't you return the favor and help the Syrian refugee children? Today, over 5 million children are in need of assistance, including over 1 million children who have sought refuge in neighboring countries.
Our teams are on the ground helping to keep children safe, providing the basics they need, like food and blankets and offering programs to help them cope with tragedy. With your help, Save the Children can continue providing relief for children like Ahmed as the numbers of refugee children are rising every day.
* Name changed to protect the child's identity
Motherhood in a Syrian Refugee Camp
Family who fled war-torn Syria
"We thought the conflict would end within one or two months," says Siwar, who fled war-torn Syria with her family. "We didn’t expect all the killings and bloodshed, and we certainly didn’t expect to end up in Za’atari." Photo by Giles Duley.
Save the Children's Dawn Trump interviewed Siwar* at Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan, where her five children can take advantage of our programs. Here is her story in her own words.
I have been in Za’atari for a year and a half with my husband and our five children. The youngest is 8 months old and was born in the camp. We left Syria because our village was under heavy shelling.
Before the war, we lived a normal life in Syria. My kids used to play with friends and work with their uncle. They want to go back to their country where they grew up.
We miss our family, relatives and neighbors. I miss the village that I lived in all my life. I feel very lonely. The main problem is lack of medical services.
During my last pregnancy, I was in a lot of pain. I was alone when I gave birth to my daughter in the camp. In Syria, my relatives were there to support me during my past pregnancies. It’s been so hard to raise my youngest without them, and it has been difficult for us all living in a small trailer.
I worry about my children becoming sick. Two of them have already suffered from the flu. They are homesick and miss their cousins and grandparents—they too are lonely and isolated here.
We thought the conflict would end within one or two months. We didn’t expect all the killings and bloodshed, and we certainly didn’t expect to end up in Za’atari.
Today, over 5 million Syrian children need help. Save the Children is on the ground helping to keep children safe and providing the basics they need, like food and health care and offering programs to help them cope with tragedy.
* Names changed to protect the family's identity
A Home with a View
Little Fathi*, 3, and Zeinah*, 1, were starting out their lives just like many children in typical American families. Their family had a comfortable life, surrounded by a large, tight-knit family. Farah*, their caring stay-at-home mom, was hoping to go back to college when her young children got a bit older. Their doting father Adnan*, a school teacher, was pursuing a law degree. Then, one of their greatest joys, a lovely home with a beautiful view of a nearby city suddenly became their worst nightmare.
Their home, where Fathi and Zeinah played and slept sung in their beds, was seized by fighters. Their scenic views made for a good lookout point in the violent armed conflict that had sprawled into their once peaceful community. Soon after the fighters arrived, their home was destroyed. Homeless, with deadly bombings encroaching on them, they fled for their lives. `Farah and Adnan made the choice to leave their home in order to keep their children safe.
“My children were born in the city and my whole family lived there, but we had to flee to Turkey during one of the outbreaks of fighting,” said Farah. “If we hadn’t left when we did we would have been killed along with so many other people. We left Syria at the right time.”
Farah, Adnan and their children stayed in Turkey for one year before making the short but treacherous journey to Kos, Greece. Farah thought they would die on the boat there, and when they arrived they were often not treated well in their hotels and had to keep moving around. Farah estimates they spent almost $1,400 on hotel rooms their first week in Kos. (how much is $1400 for the average Syrian)
Spending money on hotels is not their only worry though. Both of their children desperately need to see a doctor.
“No one knows what is wrong with my son,” Farah said. “His eyes are always inflamed, he has a sore throat and every night his nose bleeds. My baby [Zeinah] also needs a doctor as she is bow legged and needs her legs corrected.”
Their journey is far from over. Farah and Adnan are soon leaving Greece to make their way to Germany, a nearly 2,000 mile trek. If they safely reach their final destination, Save the Children will be able to step in and provide their children the medical and psychological care that they need. Farah is just ready to find a place to call home.
“I want to believe we can have a secure and peaceful life again.”
*Names have been changed for the protection of children and their families.
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