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Sybella Wilkes


A Refugee Child Who Has Touched My Heart

Posted: 26/08/2013 07:51

Today, the UN Refugee Agency announced that one million Syrian children are refugees, living in neighbouring countries Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Turkey. For over two years, many of these children have had their lives interrupted and have often had to miss school for long periods of time. Along with their families, they are taking shelter wherever they can - in camps, schools, and temporary homes. Many have escaped horrors no child should witness.

"What is at stake is nothing less than the survival and wellbeing of a generation of innocents," says UNHCR High Commissioner António Guterres. "The youth of Syria are losing their homes, their family members and their futures. Even after they have crossed a border to safety, they are traumatized, depressed and in need of a reason for hope."

Despite all they have been through, these resilient children have inspired so many around them. These photos portray some of the many children who have touched the hearts of UNHCR staff.

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  • Mohammed, My Buddyguard

    "He was a stone-thrower – invader of official UN spaces – cutting through our fences faster than we could fix them—a naughty little boy running with the little gangsters around the Za’atri main gate. Then there was the day I decided to run after him – caught him – and he pulled his pocket knife. He missed. Maybe he got scared of his own courage to take on that big German and decided to fail. I decided to talk to him: a talk man to man, a talk from a father to a son and also a talk from the cop to the little gangster. And suddenly his face changed. He became a little boy, scared to be punished and afraid to be taken to the police. I pitied him. I decided to have him work for me; I decided to turn him from an enemy to a friend. I offered him a deal. Protect me and we will be friends. Protect me against your fellow kids throwing stones and harassing me and I will protect you with my friendship. Mohammed agreed to the deal. He has become my protector and my friend and he does it with a smile. His face has changed from a grim street-gang kid to a pleasant boy who is proud to have a big friend! I have a big smile as I can walk without being harassed – now his friends are smiling at me and they are all my friends! And I am no longer afraid." Kilian Kleinschmidt, UNHCR, Camp Manager, Za’atri Refugee Camp, near Mafraq, Jordan. Photo credit: UNHCR/Jared Kohler

  • Diyaa, an eight year old with the strength of a man beyond his years.

    "I walked into a classroom in a school in Tripoli, in Northern Lebanon, where UNHCR and the Norwegian Refugee Council are providing classes to Syrian refugee children who don’t go to school. Twenty little faces stared straight at me, some shy and others smiling with a curious look on their face. They jumped out of their seats to be polite and greet me. I said hello and they all replied back in a harmonized symphony ‘Hello Miss’! My heart melted. In the front row was a little boy in a bright yellow polo and sparkly eyes. He smiled at me. Next to him rested two crutches. I walked up closer to him expecting to see a cast on his leg, he must have fallen whilst playing I thought. Instead I realised that from under his shorts, I could only see one leg. The other leg was missing. I smiled but inside I was really sad. This kid stood out. Not because of his injury, but because of the fire in his eyes. I wanted to know more about him but I didn’t want to make a fuss in front of the other children. I said goodbye and walked out of the class. I found out his name is Diyaa. It suits him perfectly. Diyaa means ‘Shining’ a ‘bright light’. And he really is. Diyaa lost his leg in a bomb explosion a year ago. His teacher told me, ‘Diyaa is one of the most confident children in class. He doesn’t allow his injury to be a disability’. She said they were worried he wouldn’t be able to go up the steps but he said, no, I want to go to school. I can do it. And he does it without anyone’s help. Once again, I find myself humbled by a child. At 8 years old, this boy has the strength of a man beyond his years." Bathoul Ahmed, UNHCR, Public Information, Tripoli, Lebanon Photo credit: UNHCR/ D. Nandjikian

  • My promise to Sharifa

    "It was her eyes that drew me to her. There was a sadness but also a liveliness, a spark of curiosity. Her cat Loulou was draped over her arm. She saw our camera and was instantly enchanted, eager to learn how it works. I found out her name is Sharifa and she was on her day off. She usually rises at 4 a.m. to work in the fields, collecting potatoes. She is from Homs, Syria, and now lives in eastern Lebanon with her parents and 5 siblings. Her family arrived in Lebanon two years ago, shortly after the conflict started. At first they lived in a rented apartment but they had to move because their money ran out. Since then they have been living in a shack in an informal settlement for the last 8 months. Most of the children in the family are working to help their dad keep up with expenses—even Sharifa who is just 12 years old. I found out she speaks very good English. We chatted for a while and I learned that when she isn’t working, she enjoys helping her mother cook their meals. I asked her what she misses most in Syria, she said her English book and playing with her friends after school. Sharifa tried to enroll in a school in Lebanon but there was no capacity at the neighboring school and her parents couldn’t afford the transportation fees to send her to another one. It was time to go and I looked in those eyes again. They tell you that she knows the situation she is in, she understands the hardships, but is still hoping to get out of it and is willing to fight to get there. And as I was leaving, Sharifa made me promise that I would help her enroll in school next year. I have thought about Sharifa every day since I met her. I will try my best not to break my promise." Lisa Abou Khaled, UNHCR, External Relations, Bekaa, Lebanon Photo credit: UNHCR/M. Deville

  • Tareef - the first refugee child I met

    "I met Tareef, when we were in northern Egypt registering Syrian refugees. It was my first time interviewing a refugee child and we were both a little nervous. He talked in a soft voice, and there were a lot of pauses, partly because he did not understand my Egyptian accent and because he is shy and quiet by nature. He told me he was being raised by his grandmother after his father had died and his mother remarried. He said he was happy living with his grandmother and his uncles but added, “I miss my mother. I used to see her every two weeks in Syria. Now, I cannot see her, and I don’t know when I will have a chance to see her again.” Even though he had not lived with his mother for a long time, his eyes were shining as he talked about her. Tareef said that he used to hear shelling and violent explosions back in Syria, and it scared him a lot. I had a lump in my throat. I thought about my 12 years old daughter and imagined what would happen if we were ever separated. My daughter and I had experienced an attempted kidnapping a few months earlier. Tears pouring from her eyes, she screamed, “Mommy, mommy they are going to kill us.” Fortunately we escaped; however, my daughter was traumatized and I often take her in my arms to comfort her—a luxury Tareef and his mother are deprived of. We became chattier as the conversation progressed. Tareef even asked me politely if he could take my mobile phone number and call me sometime; my eyes had tears in them and my heart felt so tight in my chest. I wonder about him often. He hasn’t called me although I hope he will." Marwa Hashem, UNHCR, Public Information, Egypt Photo Credit: UNCHR/Marwa Hashem

  • Fatme - one of the million Syrian refugee children

    "When I first saw Fatme, she was sitting at the entrance of their “home” which her father converted from a barn in Kilis, a Turkish town near the border with Syria. She had no emotion on her face. I sat down next to her, trying to strike up a conversation. Fatme and I immediately hit it off: while we weren’t speaking the same language, we understood each other instinctively and even played a game! Her mom told me that after all she had gone through, she hardly smiles nowadays. It had been a long time since they saw Fatme as happy as she was when we were playing together. Fatme is one of the million Syrian refugee children in exile, and each of them misses their homes, family, and friends. We made a deal; I promised Fatme that I will visit her more often, and she promised that she will keep that lovely smile on her face."


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