Thursday, 15 December 2016

There are almost a million people on the move

in Syria. There are millions of refugees in the rest of the world too.  And no, there isn't much we can do about it.  It has happened. We might be able to do something about the future but that's a different story. It's the past I need to think about. 
I need to think about the people who have already been affected. I need to think particularly about the children.
Yesterday I had another one of those requests I dread. The email read, "We found him wandering alone. He seems to be about four but it's difficult to tell because he is severely malnourished. He won't look at us. He won't speak. I gave him a pencil and some paper but he didn't touch it. He just curled up as if he wants to die. S... said you might know how to help."
There was more of course...and there are more children like him. We see too many pictures of distressed mothers and children - mothers doing their best to protect their children and sometimes other children as well. One woman had taken her own children and those of a neighbour several hundred kilometres to relative safety but they still needed help for the three deaf children. Her story is not unusual.
What we don't  see are the completely unaccompanied children, children too young to care for themselves. I don't mean the teenage boys - of whom there are many. Yes, many of them will get into trouble too but they present a different set of problems. I am talking about children, small human beings under the age of twelve - and perhaps much younger than that - who have no adult to be responsible for them. They may have been accidentally separated but it is more likely their parents are dead or have disappeared. Some have simply been abandoned by people driven insane by the war around them.  Others have run off in sheer terror. We hear very little about these children. Yes,  sometimes they are recognised and they are taken in by a distant relative or someone who recognises them as "X's child from down the street". Sometimes they are taken by people claiming to know who they are - and then vilely abused before being abandoned again. They are often the last to get food and shelter because there is nobody to fight for them. They have wounds you can see and even bigger wounds you can't see. Too many of them have lost the ability to communicate. They can't remember what happened. Some of them cannot even remember their own names. These are the lost children, the children who should be attending school and playing in the street. These are the children who should be giggling and calling to one another, and driving their parents "crazy" with questions and demands. They should be thinking about birthdays, bikes, books and their "best friend". Instead they are silent.
I don't know how many such children there are wandering in Eastern Aleppo. One is too many. The city of Aleppo may have fallen almost silent for now but the war isn't over. It has only just started.

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