June 20, 2017

'We had a beautiful life in Syria but now our children have lost their future' say refugee family

Two-year-old Ali pictured at a settlement in Turkey

Photo credit: Rosielyse Thompson

Rosie-Lyse Thompson

Multimedia journalist

On World Refugee Day, we talk to a family who fled to Turkey and say there are no schools or safe spaces for their children to grow and thrive.

As the sun sets over an informal refugee camp in the south of Turkey, Fawaz and his two-year-old son Ali play on the soft grass behind their tent. 

Rain from the night before had turned the ground into slushy clay. Sculpting mud into figurines, the father of four makes small toys to entertain his son.  

“We can’t afford toys, so my children go without,” Fawaz explains. “They find things in the fields to entertain themselves, like an old string to use as a skipping rope or a bucket to act as a drum."  

Fawaz and his wife Hanan had a comfortable life in Syria. He owned a small shop and the couple had bought their first house in their hometown of Al-Hasakah - a three-bedroom bungalow with a small garden and olive trees. 

“We had a beautiful life in Syria. We were happy and we lived well. My oldest son Ibrahim was enrolled in the nearby nursery. As I was never given the chance to go to university, I always dreamed he would,” Fawaz said. 

When the conflict in Syria started to escalate, the young family’s peaceful life took a turn for the worse. Schools began to close and buildings were shelled. 

The family were at a relative's wedding when a barrel bomb struck their house, destroying everything and leaving them just with the clothes on their backs. 

Penniless and desperate, the family fled to Turkey. Unable to afford rent, they set up a tent in a makeshift camp outside Adana. Working on the nearby farms, Fawaz and his wife Hanan earn a small wage that allows them to survive. 

Hanan says: “The conditions we live in are very tough, the weather is like a fire in the summer months and extremely cold in the winter. There are rats and snakes. 

Ibrahim, the oldest of the children, was enrolled in nursery back in Syria

Photo credit: Rosielyse Thompson

"My children run around in the wilderness and are always getting sick."

Six months pregnant with her fifth child, Hanan is nervous for the upcoming arrival. With limited access to health care and a lack of nearby schools, she is fearful for the future of her children. 

“There is nothing here for my children, there are no schools or safe spaces for them to play. It’s painful to witness my children grow up like this as they’ve lost their future,” she says.

In March, the total number of Syrian babies born in Turkey exceeded 150,000. According to UNICEF, an estimated 3.7 million Syrian children, one out of three, have been born since the civil war began. 

These children have grown up knowing nothing but conflict and violence - many have lived their whole lives as refugees. 

The basic essentials for children’s physical, mental and emotional growths are often lacking.

The conflict in Syria changed life for the young family

Photo credit: Rosielyse Thompson

In addition to physical danger, children living through violent conflict risk psychological trauma, post-traumatic stress and inadequate cognitive and socio-emotional development, which can hinder their health, educational attainment and success for years to come. 

Children cannot afford to put their learning and development on hold while the conflict in Syria rages around them. 

The earliest years of growth and learning are too important to miss. Early childhood development programmes are a lifesaving intervention that helps protect young children’s opportunities to reach their full developmental potential.

All children living in vulnerable situations need safe spaces to grow and thrive.  

This World Refugee Day, Theirworld is calling on world leaders to commit to a dramatic increase in funding and action to support early childhood programmes. To ensure all children are given the best start in life, no matter who they are or where they are born.

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By the end of 2017 world leaders must allocate the funds needed to establish quality early childhood development programmes so that every child is given the best start in life.

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