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Syria crisis: a six-year-old survivor

Nidal* speaks quietly but firmly.

He is more composed than any six year old I’ve ever met. But then he’s been through more than most six-year-olds.

He has just fled from Syria with his five-year-old sister Nur* and their mother. We start the interview gently, but Nidal is adamant that he wants to talk about Syria and launches right in.

“I remember playing… and explosions”

“I remember shelling.  All the houses that have fallen and the trees that fell in the gardens.  I remember playing on my computer. Playing. And explosions.”

“Once I saw a tank following people. Men were running and shooting.  A man came to our house, opened the door violently and set next to our window with his rifle.  And they all started shooting.”

“I was scared.  I was scared when I saw the fire.  I said to my mother ‘let’s run’.  I thought maybe the house would all burn while we were inside.  I thought I was going to die.”

Chased

I pause our conversation and I ask how he’s feeling talking about this conversation, if he’d like to stop. He shakes his head and carries on, in a stream of consciousness. It feels as though he has been waiting to say this for months.

“Once armed men chased three of us.  They shot at us and it hit the ground near my foot so I jumped. It hit below my foot and it touched my shoe but I kept running.

“We reached a wall and couldn’t run any more. I was scared, very scared.  I was scared and my friends too.

“We were surrounded by walls. So we chose to jump over one wall.  When we ran through the garden, we saw men with guns. They asked us why we were running, we told them we were being followed.

“They ran with us and we reached another wall, one of them carried me over and my  friend jumped by himself.   My other friend they caught, I don’t know what happened to him.”

Witnessing atrocities

I should be beyond shock after weeks of speaking to Syrian children about their experiences, but this story still angers me. How can anyone try to shoot a six-year-old boy?

I’m not there to pass judgment but my shock must have shown in my face because Nidal nods.

We talk a little more, and Nidal tells me that his father was taken and killed outside his home. He witnessed his father being taken, struggling, from their home.

Children pay the price

We talk then of lighter things, of the games he plays with his sister, and what he will eat for dinner tonight.

He walks away from our conversation smiling and holding hands tightly with his sister, but the research team just sit there on the cold concrete blocks, unable to speak.

Nidal is just one child, but his experience echoes thousands of others. Children inside Syria are living in harrowing conditions and witnessing and enduring things no child should have to.

Children, above all, are paying the price for this on-going brutal civil war.

 

*Names have been changed to protect the family’s identity.

Nidal and his sister are both receiving specialist emotional support and counselling to come to terms with what they have been through in Syria. Save the Children is helping thousands of children like Nidal and Nur to access education, to learn how to communicate about their experiences and – vitally – to learn how to be children again.

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