On the occasion of World Refugee Day, Save the Children joins four Syrian adolescents as they discuss life away from home.
‘’When I return one day, there will be less of everything. Everything will have been destroyed,’’ says Ali, ‘’There will be fewer people.’’
The boy, 14, from Syria and his three friends are sitting around a white plastic garden table outside Save the Children’s Child Protection centre in Akkar, North Lebanon. The mountain that overlooks this village is not strange to them; they climbed it as they sought a route to escape the mayhem in Syria.
The group met in Lebanon in a pick-up truck as they headed to their first day at work, nearly three years ago. The building they helped to construct is now fully occupied.
During that time, the joys of a normal childhood were taken from them. Each day is beset with worries and fears. Their families rely on them to put food on the table.
The memories of a simpler life in Syria always return to visit Rabih.
‘’I used to come back from school and do my homework,’’ the 12-year-old says. ‘’There was a park close to our house so we spent a lot of our time there.’’
His friend and cousin Ayman sums up the reasons that force someone from home in one word: fear.
‘’When you are scared, you will leave home. No matter how.’’
The friends mention a word that is now associated with their families and neighbours. They never knew who a ‘refugee’ was until they had lived the experience.
‘’When we came here, I heard people say it, but I never really knew what it meant,’’ says Qusai. ‘’They told me I was a refugee.’’
But who is a refugee? Is there a specific definition they could come up with?
‘’A refugee means that you live in someone else’s house in a country that is not yours.’’ Adnan explains.
Qusai describes the rollercoaster of emotions he went through as he searched for safety.
‘’It was very hard. You feel you’re being forced to do it because you have no options. It is not something you choose, but a very painful experience [to leave home].’’
Rabih compares life at home with that in refuge and says there are two changes that stand out.
‘’In Syria, we went to school. Here, we don’t. In Syria, we didn’t go to work. Here, we do.’’
The adolescents’ only chance of a get-together is at Save the Children’s focused psychosocial activities - supported by Unicef- which they attend regularly to share their experiences and learn how to protect themselves.
‘’We don’t meet outside,’’ Ali says. ‘’Everyone is busy at work. Over the weekend, we are too tired to leave the house.’’
Lebanon is host to nearly 1.5 million refugees, including over one million Syrian refugees who continue to fight to secure the essential needs for their children. Ali and his friends represent a large number of children who prematurely share the burden of responsibility.
‘’I want to go back to my country and school. That’s all I want.’’
Asked if they share this wish, Ali’s friends nod.