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Syria: Teens Living in the Conflict Zone

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SYRIA
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"Look!" 13-year-old Abdul thrusts his hand under my nose. "Look what happened."

He's showing me the scars on the back of his hand, inflicted by a man fighting in the Syrian conflict - for fun, just because he could. Abdul's friend Najid pushes forward to show me the scars on his face, and indicates more wounds on his thigh. Adnan, age 12, is pointing at his own scars that frame his face, running almost parallel to his hairline.

Teenage refugees and their stories often get overlooked. We see photos of tiny children, and we hear about the experiences of their parents. But teens don't really get a look-in.

Caught at a stage in their lives when they should be concentrating on their studies and having fun with their friends, many Syrian teenagers are now in a position where they have to take on serious responsibilities, yet lack the autonomy of adulthood. And some Syrian teenagers have witnessed truly horrifying scenes, the likes of which most of us will never see in our lifetimes.

Grateful to have escaped

This group of young people are living in a one-bedroom flat in west Amman. There are four families staying here, and all the families are headed by women - the fathers have died, disappeared, or had to stay behind in Syria.

The flat is humid, damp, crumbling and packed with people. But there's no complaining. When I ask this group of teens how they feel to be living here, they say: "Great. We are thankful for this situation."

While their mothers talk to the local Imam who has come to visit, I speak to the seven teenagers. They spend their day in the flat, in the one room they all share, watching Al Jazeera news and waiting for news of home.

Memories of killings

Fula, 14, tells me how she tried to help her neighbours after serious clashes in Homs: "It all happened at night. There were no doctors to help us. I saw a man who was shot in the eye. I saw people killed. My uncle and father were both killed."

"I took clothing, just like this," she indicates the neat piles of clothing in the one room they all share, "...and salt to clean the wounds, and I made bandages. I tried to clean the wounds, to help people. People were wounded on the neck, they had cuts, so I helped them."

The girls begin to talk over the top of each other in their drive to tell their stories, to be heard.
The oldest tells me about her fiancé, who is still in Syria. They talk of the horror of running away to escape the violence - in the dark, at night, without knowing where they were going, tripping over bodies but not wanting to think about it.

One girl remembers:

"We were stepping on people, on pieces of people. I stepped on something - it was a head. I stepped on something else - it was an arm."

These are the words that will haunt me for the rest of my visit.

Many young people I met were utterly frustrated by the limbo they now find themselves in - unable to continue their studies or find work. Several were forced to leave Syria part-way through university courses and have no idea when they will be able to pick up their studies again.

In Mafraq, to the north, I meet Adnan. He's living in a flat with his uncle, grandmother, and four young nieces and nephews. All seven of them share one bedroom.

"I was a student in Damascus. I was one year into my economics degree, but I had to leave. I can't go back to Syria, but I cannot study here. What am I to do? I am one year into a four-year course. My home is destroyed, gone. We came here just one month ago. Before I had work too, at a supermarket in Homs. Now here I have no work, no help. We badly need money for rent."

With his mother and father still in Homs, Adnan clearly feels responsible for the new family group he is living with here in Jordan. His frustration at his inability to get work to support them, or do anything useful with his economics course, is palpable. When I ask him how he feels about the situation, he seems almost physically tongue-tied in his inability to do justice to his thoughts.

"More than anything I want to complete my studies in my country. I cannot explain right now how I truly feel - it is very frustrating to me."

As I turn to leave he takes my arm again, but words still fail him. "I can't... I can't..." is all he can say, and he shrugs.

The British Red Cross is working with the Jordanian Red Crescent, Syrian Red Crescent and ICRC to support people both inside Syria, and in the surrounding countries. To donate to the British Red Cross Syria Crisis Appeal go to www.redcross.org.uk/syriacrisis

2012-11-21-Jordan3.jpg
Talking with Syrian teenagers in Amman

2012-11-21-Jordan4.jpg
Boys with local community leader. In total, four refugee families are living in this one-bedroom flat.
All images copyright Ibrahim Malla/British Red Cross

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