Syria's ongoing civil war has been costly when measured in terms of human life with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights estimating that between March 15th 2011 and November 30th, 2012, at least 59,648 individuals have been killed. This number is likely an underestimate of the real toll given that some killings simply would not have been reported. Of the victims thus far, 76 percent are male, 7.5 percent are female and the gender of 16.4 percent could not be identified. Children have been particularly hard-hit with thousands having been injured, subjected to traumatic incidents and forced to leave their homes. A recent report by Save the Children outlines some of the issues facing Syria's beleaguered children. Here are four of their stories:
Mohamad - 15 years old - currently living with his family in a tent in the Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan.
"When we were inside Syria there was shooting, shelling and fire. They rained shells down on us and the nearby villages. I felt there was no mercy. They’re killing people with air strikes. When the air strikes took place we would run into the shelter or the basement. Sometimes armed men would break into the house. During Ramadan, the shooting and shelling were constant. Each and every day. A massacre took place in my village. Around 25 people were killed – I witnessed it with my own eyes. They used different ways to kill people – electric shocks, throwing machinery and cement blocks on people’s heads, arresting people and making them suffer in prison."
Moussa - 15 years old
"I was captured by the police and put in prison for 22 days. I was tortured and I saw children dying. I’ve got scars on my feet, chest and back. There were hundreds of us in prison – I was in a big cell with the other children. The youngest ones were nine or ten, they had been captured. I was beaten up every day, and they used electricity too.
In prison, when someone died, they kept hitting the body. There were dead bodies in my cell too – they’d been there for a long time and they stank. They were decomposing – there were maggots. Eventually, they threw me out. They carried me out on a blanket. I couldn’t move. A passerby stopped and looked at my ID. He took me to my village, where my family found me and took me to hospital. I still have back pains."
Ali - 12 years old - currently living with his family in Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan
"We left Syria because of the shelling. Every night I’d wake up scared. I’d rather die here than die in Syria. They broke into houses. They stole things from our house, and broke the doors, broke our things. They even stole our food while we were in the basement. In my place, you’d commit suicide from what we’ve seen.
My cousins, a17-year-old boy and a nine-year-old girl, died because of the shelling. It destroyed their home. My cousin’s wife who also died had a newborn baby. Who’ll take care of her? She also had another three young children. Whenever I heard shelling, I was so scared. I remembered my cousins, and I cried. When I looked at where their house used to be, I felt very sad. The day my cousins died, the shelling carried on continuously.
As I was leaving to head home, two shells were thrown. The first one destroyed my cousin’s house and the second one destroyed a mosque in the village. I ran, I was so scared. I just hid in a phone booth. Then I went out on the street and called for my mother. More shells fell and I was scared. Most were stuck in schools. Many schools were targeted. So much shelling took place there. My second cousin also got injured – he’s eight years old. He was in his house which is next to the school, and he was injured. Omar came separately here to this camp, and I was asking everyone where he was. I walked around looking for him, looking in every tent, and then I saw him running towards me. I was so happy."
Munther - 10 years old
"I was on the street when the bullets were first fired. We were standing outside a school – we’d just posed for a photo. There were lots of children around. Then the shooting started. There was chaos. Everyone was screaming. There were bullets and blood everywhere. A boy called Amjad was standing next to me. He was shot in the head. I didn’t realise at first that he was dead. He fell forward on his knees, in a praying position. He was 15.
Then I felt a terrible pain. I’d been shot too – in my neck. Here, see my scars [Munther has two bullet-sized wounds on his neck, one in the front and to one side of his neck, the other in the back of his neck]. Luckily I was with my friend’s mother. She picked me up and took me straight to a clinic to get help. I recovered from the shooting.
We held a funeral for Amjad. Lots of people came. We made a statue of Amjad and put his own school uniform on it. Then we carried the statue through the streets. I was so sad that day.
My biggest problem now is that I’ve been out of school for a whole year – and I don’t know when I’ll be able to go back to school. I want to become a doctor, but I know can’t do that without a good education."
The Za'atari prison camp where many Syrian children currently live is located in northern Jordan, less than six miles from the Syrian border. Here are two photographs showing the very harsh living conditions in the camp:
In July 2012, the United Nations approved a plan to erect around 200 similar camps along the Syria-Jordan border to house up to 1 million Syrian refugees. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees expects that the camp at Za'atari will house a total of 120,000 refugees. The UNHCR notes that the Syrian Arab Republic hosts one of the largest urban refugee and asylum-seeking populations in the world.
Here is a graphic showing how the number of Syrian refugees has grown from just 6000 since the beginning of the conflict in December 2011:
As of January 6th, 2013, there are a total of 497,135 individual registered refugees and a total of 597,240 individuals registered and awaiting registration. Not surprisingly, 54 percent of the refugees are children under the age of 17 as shown here:
Quite clearly, this is no long-term solution for Syria's children. The recent use of cluster bombs in heavily populated areas by Syria's Air Force is emotionally traumatizing, physically injuring and killing Syrian children in ever-larger numbers. One can only imagine how much worse the situation could get for Syria's next generation if Bashar al-Assad is cornered and refuses to surrender without a last-ditch fight.