Syrian Refugee Children Stories: Life as a Refugee

More than 10 years of conflict in Syria has had a devastating impact on the country’s children. This conflict has created the world’s largest wave of displacement in modern history. More than 13 million people are now displaced, including 6.6 million refugees and more than six million internally displaced people.

As a child, being forced to flee your home is a life-changing event. It often results in negative impacts that persist long after the conflict has ended.

Not only do Syria’s children wish for the conflict to end. They long to be able to further their education or return to school. And yet, 10 years since the start of the crisis, and one year into the COVID-19 crisis, displaced Syrian children are facing impossible choices about their futures.

Save the Children has been at the forefront of the crisis affecting Syria since 2014, providing assistance to the children in need. Here are some of their stories.

Dima's* husband used to have a shop selling fabric and linen, but like other business owners, since the start of the conflict he has not been able to keep his business going and he had to sell his shop to cover his losses. To try and escape the fighting Dima*, her husband and their two children fled their home and settled in a small village where there wasn't even a medical center. So when Dima's* son fell sick the neighbors told her that she should take him to the city, however transportation was so expensive and the road was so dangerous, making the trip impossible. However a neighbor told Dima* about a health center run by Save the Children which provides patients with healthcare free of charge. Dima* has now brought her son here twice where he received the medication he needs and is on the way to recovery. The destruction of healthcare infrastructure, targeting of health workers, limited access to lifesaving health services and medicines, and lack of clean water and sanitation facilities and high rates of displacement are putting people, especially children, at increased risk of disease. As families' livelihoods are eroded, access to food becomes more difficult and rates of disease rise, Syrian children are becoming more vulnerable to malnutrition, with 2.4 million children under five at risk of under-nutrition. Photocredit: Ahmad Baroudi

Dima* and her son Salim* at a Save the Children health center in northern Syria. Photo by Ahmad Baroudi.

Salim’s Story: Fighting to Survive the Winter in a Refugee Camp

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 his 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 he can feel the freezing air against his cheeks. He shivers to keep his body warm but with no blanket he has nothing to protect him from the cold air breezing through the tent. He is one of many children fighting to survive the winter in a refugee camp, and as the conditions turn treacherous, he is in desperate need of warm clothes, blankets and food.

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 is on the ground year round, providing the basics – like food and blankets – 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 he needs to survive the winter, receive an education and learn to be a kid again.

Ain Issa is in the Kurdish-led autonomous administration of North East Syria.  In October 2019 Turkey launched a military operation in northern Syria. Ain Issa camp is one of three camps for people displaced in North-East Syria.  Save the Children is working in the three camps to provide much-needed support, including tents, food and non-food items such as heaters and jerrycans, as well as case management and referrals.

As a result of the hostilities in North East Syria, already vulnerable families are being forced to flee for safety. Save the Children is working in the three camps to provide much-needed humanitarian aid and support, including tents and food. Photo credit: Save the Children, Oct 2019.

A Syrian 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?

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 Syrian refugee children are rising every day.

LaGeSo is the registration office in Berlin, Germany where hundreds of refugees, including Syrian refugees wait for days to get their official registration. Yaser's* five children Ali* (15), Achmed* (14), Hala* (10), Sedra* (7) and Aya* (3), have already been waiting 11 days, after a 26-day trip to Berlin. They are exhausted. Save the Children runs programs through several partners in Germany to support refugee children, giving them a voice and providing them with a welcoming culture, and by strengthening best practices in child protection and education. Photo credit: Chris de Bode / Save the Children, September 2015. *Names have been changed to protect identities

Yaser's* five children have been waiting 11 days for their registration process to be completed. Photo by Chris de Bode / Save the Children

Yaser's Story

For two long years, violence has kept Yaser’s* five children, Ali*, 15, Achmed*, 14, Hala*, 10, Sedra*, 7 and Aya*, 3, from living a normal life. They haven’t been able to go to school or play outside – the sniper and missile attacks made it too risky. Instead, 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."

*Name changed for protection. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Syrian Refugees

Who are Syrian refugees?

The Syrian refugees are a population who have been forced to flee Syria due to violence, persecution or war. The vast majority of Syrian refugees live in neighboring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.

More than 6 million people in Syria have been driven from their homes but remain displaced inside the country, living in terrible conditions. During Syria's hard winters, they risk freezing to death.

Syrian children - whether inside Syria or elsewhere - do not see bright and happy futures inside Syria. On average, 86% of Syrian refugee children surveyed in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and the Netherlands said they would not want to return to their country of origin.

How many Syrian Refugees are there?

After ten years of war in Syria, 13 million people are displaced, including 6.6 million Syrian refugees.

When can Syrian refugees return home?

Conditions in Syria are not ready for refugees to return. Besides the ongoing conflict in many areas, there is no access to quality education, jobs or stable income - all basic necessities.

Any return to Syria has to be dignified, informed, voluntary and safe. This cannot happen before the conflict is over and without peace and guarantees for people returning.

What are Syrian refugee children calling for?

In a recent report, Save the Children explored how children’s environment, experiences and access affect their sense of safety, inside and outside Syria.

The study found that children want to feel safe where they are. They want to have a say on their future and meaningful access to opportunities to learn and grow.

Children’s top priority is for the violence in Syria to end. They also want an end to harassment on the streets, and for just and the rule of law to prevail.

The need for stronger legislation to ensure people are treated equally and are not discriminated against was also highlighted by children in this survey.

How many children are out of school in Syria, and what does the future look like for them?

An estimated 2.4 million children are out of school, 1.6 million children are at risk of dropping out.

For children in Syria, it is not only COVID-19 that serves as an obstacle for the continuity of their education. Between February 2019 and February 2020 alone, 92 incidents occurred where a school or education facility was attacked. This has meant that children in Syria have had to live under the constant threat of violence.

Syrian Refugee Crisis: An Update from the Field

How Save the Children has Shaped Refugee Stories

Save the Children has had programs in the Middle East for decades, thanks to the generosity of supporters like you. Despite the danger inside Syria, our emergency teams reach the most vulnerable children in Syria and in those countries hosting Syrian refugees. Inside Syria, we've supported 3 million people, including 2.1 million children.

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