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Syria crisis: 11 years old and he has run for his life

The hardest thing to take in is the wrinkles. Rami is only 11, but when he looks at you, his eyes betray the exhaustion and hardship normally seen in a man five times his age.

Deep, heavy wrinkles are etched into the delicate skin under his eyes, and I know this boy has lived through more adversity than most grown men.

He’s had to give up everything he knows and loves, leave behind his home, his possessions and his friends. He’s lived through the all-encompassing terror of shelling, gunfire in the streets and open conflict in his hometown.

He’s 11 years old and he’s run for his life.

Winter

He doesn’t give me the details of his life before, and I don’t ask. What he’s going through, even now that he’s crossed the border to safety in Jordan, is hard enough. Because now, winter is setting in, and Rami’s hardship is far from over.

He invites me in to talk in the tent he now lives in with his family in Jordan’s Za’atari camp. Rami sits on the thin mattress laid out on the ground and his hands fiddle with the ends of his jacket sleeves.

He tells me his Mum bought this jacket for him at one of the stalls that have sprung up in the camp, some stocked with jackets, sweaters, boots and other warm clothes that most families cannot afford. Neither, really, can Rami’s.

The thin jacket he’s wearing is the only thing his parents have been able to buy to help protect their son from the icy winds that sweep across this camp that sits in the middle of a vast desert.

Rami tells me that because they can’t afford the warm clothes he and his brothers need. His mother has started cutting up the few blankets they’ve been given and sews them back together as pyjamas.

He brings over his brother’s hand-stitched pyjama top to show me. His mother’s desperation is made clear through the white thread holding the pieces of material together – she’s doing the only thing she can to provide her sons with the warmth and protection they need as winter sets in and her boys become ever more exposed to the cold.

Exposed

Although he’s only 11, Rami shares his parents’ fear that the youngest boys are already too exposed to the plummeting temperatures.

“My youngest brothers don’t speak many words yet,” he starts telling me, looking over at his brothers Youssef, three, and Omar, only 18 months.

Both are already wearing their homemade fleece pyjamas, despite it still being early afternoon, usually the warmest hours of the day.

“But when they get cold, they say the word ‘cold’ – they know that word.” He looks back at me, and says it again.

“They know ‘mom’, ‘dad’, only a few words – but they know ‘cold’.”

His mother comes over and sets down a small metal tray with small kettle of hot tea. The young boys crowd around it, grabbing the glasses filled with hot liquid and begin to drink.

I leave the boys to take in the warmth from the tea, allowing them a brief respite from the chill that’s begun to set in, and fervently hope more aid will reach them in time.

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