Over the past week, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Alessio Romenzi, a fantastic Italian photographer who was one of the few foreign journalists in Homs during the bombardment. We put together this slideshow for Save The Children’s stop the killing campaign- please share!
Ten-year-old Adnan insists he felt no fear when the shells began to fall, but when he describes what happened in his village, his face tells a different story. “A house was bombed just 300 meters away from our home. I felt everything was shaking around me,” he says, his eyes widening as he speaks. “People are getting killed and there is always bombing, especially at night.”
I ask him again if he was afraid and he pauses, perhaps worried that admitting to fear would put his bravery in doubt. Eventually he concedes that yes, when the bombs fell close to him, he was frightened, but not at all during his journey to Lebanon.
When I ask him about his mother, who is still in Syria, the façade crumbles. He does not answer my question, but his eyes fill with tears, and as they roll down his cheeks, he buries his head in his hands. “We miss her very much,” his sister says quietly. “We are worried about her.”
Adnan and his sister are just two of the thousands of Syrian children who have fled the conflict in Syria for the relative safety of Lebanon. Others are not hard to find. In the mountains that form the border between Lebanon and Syria, families are arriving every day, driven from their homes by the conflict and shortages of food and water.
Many are from Bab Amr in Homs, recently subject to intense artillery bombardment. Jaber arrived with his wife and three children after his house was destroyed in the shelling. “There’s been no bread, no food, in Baba Amr for more than one month now,” he says. “They bombed the water tanks so people started using buckets to fill when it’s raining to get drinking water. Baba Amr is a total mess.”
He sighs as he looks at the pile of luggage he salvaged from the ruins of his home. Something moves amid the blankets and the bags. It is a tiny baby, Jaber’s daughter, Rafif, stirring in her sleep. “I need to get her the milk she needs,” he says. “We only have a little left.” He has no money to buy it.
Officially, there are around 12,000 Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon, but the true number is likely to be far higher. The borders between the countries are traditionally porous, and although it has become harder to cross, towns and villages in Lebanon have reported recent sharp increases in number of refugees arriving.
In Tripoli. Lebanon’s second city, you see minivans on Syrian number plates laden with possessions and packed full of people. No seat goes spare. Local community leaders say that refugees have been arriving in their hundreds, looking for places to stay. The money they bring will not last forever, and for some it has already run out.
The refugees may have escaped the conflict, but they have not left it behind. They speak of people, businesses and belongings left at home, and of their uncertainty about whether they will be able to return. Speaking to them, you feel they have only left the country in a physical sense; emotionally, they are still very much in Syria.
It wasn’t the bombs or the shooting that made Adnan cry. It wasn’t his parents’ decision that he should leave the only home he knew, nor was it the destruction he witnessed in his country. Adnan’s tears came from a different place; he cried because did not know when, or if, he would see his mother again. For Syria’s refugee children, an uncertain future holds deeper fears than even the horrors of the recent past.
For the past month, on still nights, the Syrian refugees in the Lebanese district of Wadi Khaled have drifted to sleep to the sound of distant explosions.
As the conflict in Syria rolls ever closer to the border, booming and crackling its way through villages and towns, it has forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes.
Some have made it to Lebanon. There are almost 500 Syrian refugee families living in Wadi Khaled. Many of them arrived before the recent shelling of Homs, cutting their losses before the situation spiralled out of control and they could not escape.
Those who have arrived speak of a perilous journey, of braving freezing temperatures and ongoing conflict to reach the border. Some families report of being shot at along the way, while others have lost their relatives in the chaos and spend their days in the limbo of dread, not wanting to fear the worst, not daring to hope for the best.
For children it is particularly hard. They arrive, hungry, cold and terrified, in a strange country where they don’t know anyone. Their parents are deeply stressed, and they may have nowhere to go. Some have been through unimaginably traumatic experiences. When they arrive they need help.
Save the Children is there to provide that help. On arrival, new children are invited to play areas, where specialists monitor them for signs of distress.
They are encouraged to make friends, to draw, to take part in group activities and to learn about Lebanon. For many, it is the first time they have had fun in months.
Most bounce back quickly, and are enrolled in local schools. The aim is to build a routine and make a deeply abnormal situation as normal as possible. Some children are more deeply affected – so Save the Children arranges for them to receive more specialist attention.
Those who have made it to Lebanon are the lucky ones. There are tens of thousands more who are still in Syria, in desperate need of help. We’re prepared to deliver aid to anyone who needs it if we are granted access.
That’s why last week we launched our campaign for full, unfettered access for humanitarian groups to deliver aid in Syria.
We know that children in Syria are in urgent need of assistance. By signing our petition, you can help us do all that we can to reach them.