Young Syrian refugees reflect on family, bombs and the misery of tent life

About half of Syria’s prewar population has been displaced, 6.1 million of whom remain within the country

Rimas says seeing Syrian children her age in refugee camps on the news makes her sad.

“There are no schools, no food and it’s very cold. It really upsets me to see that,” she says from her new home in Germany.

Now aged 11, she recalls little of her homeland. But memories of bombs and  the roar of aircraft are vivid.

"I don't remember much else, but I watch the news every day," she tells The National.

Syrians born since 2011 have never seen their country at peace.

For them, life in conflict or exile is all they know.

“I want to go to Syria to meet my grandma and grandpa, because I’ve only ever seen them on video,” said Juliana, 9, from Damascus, who now lives in Turkey.

About half of Syria’s prewar population has been displaced, 6.1 million within the country and 5.6 million now living abroad.

Jana, 10, is one of the many children Rimas might have seen on TV. Having survived some of the war’s most harrowing offensives, she lives with her family in a refugee camp in Idlib province.

For five years, the family lived under the regime’s siege of Eastern Ghouta.

“It was so bad,” she says. “We used to eat the grass on the ground. We would eat mouldy bread. Sometimes we wouldn’t eat for two days.”

The Assad regime has been accused of using starvation as a war tactic, blocking aid deliveries and doctors from entering civilian communities and preventing those inside from leaving.

Ghouta was eventually taken by the regime in a barrage of air strikes and shelling in April 2018.

Jana lost hearing in her left ear when an air strike occurred next to her house. She is still affected physically and mentally, her mother says.

“One time, Jana’s teacher hit her with a bag because she did not believe that Jana genuinely could not hear her,” Iman Darkazly said.

“She went back home crying because everyone was laughing at her for not hearing what was being said to her.”

Although they escaped Eastern Ghouta, Jana and her family are not safe. Living in a tent in Idlib, they are still exposed to the elements and the regime’s air assaults.

Fighting between rebels and Damascus is common. Many expect the regime to launch one final offensive to retake the last region outside its rule from hardline factions and Turkey-backed Syrian forces.

Jana says she felt better in Eastern Ghouta than she does in Idlib but wants to put it all behind her and build a life abroad.

“I love my country but I also want to go to Europe. I don’t want to lose a family member because I’m here, she said. “I want to get rid of air strikes and my tent.”

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