When conflict erupted in Syria, thousands of families fled their homes to seek safety elsewhere in the country. Schools and mosques became temporary shelters for displaced people, who hoped that they would soon be able to return home. Three years on, there is no sign the conflict is ceasing. Thousands are still living in cramped and squalid conditions, including children like Ahmad and Rayan.
Ahmad's story: a place of refuge or danger?
In the Tishreen district of Aleppo, in north Syria, people with nowhere else to go have moved into houses that are still under construction. One of these houses is known as Building No.107, and it has no doors, windows, walls or completed stairs. On the first floor, thirteen refugee families are living side-by-side, separated only by plastic sheets.
Six-year-old Ahmad recently fractured his skull when he fell from the stairs, which do not have any railings. He was rushed to a local hospital by an SOS team, who happened to be visiting the building at the time of the accident. They were told that five other children had also fallen from the stairs in the same month. Ahmad survived his injuries, but other children were not so fortunate.
Desperate to escape violence, Ahmad's family moved into the only shelter they could find. Sadly, this unsafe building has led to further pain and loss.
Rayan's biggest dream is to have a home
Elsewhere in Aleppo, 12-year-old Rayan is living in a basement with 21 relatives. It's a dark and cold shelter, with only one door and one room.
“We don't have any heating in our basement. All we have is an old brazier in which we put different materials to burn them to produce heat. We can't use this heating method all the time because my mum says that the place where we live is very crowded, and if we keep burning things day and night we might suffocate at night.”
When Rayan's family fled armed clashes in her neighbourhood, Joub Al Koube, they had to leave behind all their possessions. Now they only have thin blankets to sleep under and the clothes they are wearing to keep warm during the winter.
Rayan never calls the basement where she's now living ‘home’. For Rayan and thousands of other displaced Syrian children, ‘home’ remains a distant dream.
Alaa and Aya were found alone on the streets of Damascus
Alaa and Aya were found sitting on a pavement in Damascus, holding each others' hands tightly. The man who found them, Hassan, said, “They seemed to be in a bad situation. They had lost their parents and God only knows how long they had been wandering the streets alone.” Estimated to be three and four years old, the girls couldn't explain where their home was or where their parents were.
Hassan and his family cared for the girls until a Syrian court decided it would be best for Alaa and Aya to move into the SOS Children's Village in Damascus. Hassan said goodbye to the children with a big hug, saying: “You will go to a nice place. Don’t worry, I will come to visit you every day. You will have a big garden to play in and, Alaa, you will get a new school bag.”
The young girls are now safe in an SOS family home in Damascus, and are being doted on by their SOS Mother. Here, they are sheltered from the danger outside and can enjoy a playful childhood. Meanwhile, the SOS team in Syria is working to find their parents or extended family, so they can be reunited.
Although there are no official statistics on unaccompanied children inside Syria, it is likely there are many other children like Alaa and Aya who have lost their family in the chaos of civil war. Recent UNICEF reports estimate there are more than 8,000 unaccompanied refugee children in Jordan and Lebanon.
Our SOS Children's Village in Damascus provides a loving and safe home for Syrian children with nothing and no one. Across the country, we are working to keep families together and children safe. Our supporters help to care for Syrian children by donating to our Syria emergency appeal.