Untold atrocities: Stories of Syria’s children

Save the Children has released a new report containing testimony from children who, along with their parents, are now receiving help as refugees. Wael, a sixteen-year old boy describes his experience in Syria.

I’ve been here in Za’atari for a month now. Why did I leave? What a question. There’s no one left in Syria.

At the beginning we could just about survive. We would go to the shelter, we would hide, and we would live. But now they’re using different weapons. Before, the shelters were safe, but now the weapons destroy even those in the basements of houses. I couldn’t stand what was happening: the shelling, the destruction, the torture.

At my home in Syria, we dug a hole in the garden to hide in. It was only big enough for three people to crouch in, but whenever we knew that violence was coming, I would climb in there with my brothers. My mother would lead us in and then cover it over with corrugated iron, and throw sand over the top. And we would wait, sometimes for hours.

The last time I was in there it was from 7am to 5pm. It was terrifying – I was so worried that they would find us and kill me and my two brothers. We’d hide in the hole when armed men were walking the streets, and in the basement when shelling happened. The shelling was almost daily. We’d use the hole at least once a week, often on Thursdays. Thursdays are a big day for massacres and crackdowns because prayers on a Friday can be a trigger for protest.

Once, I was arrested along with hundreds of other people. They separated out the children and I was the oldest at 16. I can’t tell you how many there were, but there were many. We were forced into a small cell together. There was nowhere to go – there wasn’t even a toilet, just a hole in the floor.

There was a group of small children with us whose parents were ‘wanted’. There were perhaps 13 children in total. They weren’t allowed food or water. When it was time for us to eat, their group was surrounded by armed men who stopped anyone giving them food. These children were too weak to even cry. They just lay on the floor.

They were also subjected to repeated beating with sticks, worse than us. I knew a boy called Ala’a. He was part of that group. He was only six years old. He didn’t understand what was happening. His dad was told that his child would die unless he gave himself up. I’d say that this six-year-old boy was tortured more than anyone else in that room. He wasn’t given food or water for three days, and he was so weak he used to faint all the time. He was beaten regularly. I watched him die. He only survived for three days and then he simply died. He was terrified all the time. They treated his body as though he was a dog.

I wasn’t able to think about anything by then. I thought I’d die in that cell and I couldn’t see past that. If they overheard us talking, we were beaten fiercely and repeatedly. So we didn’t talk. All we heard was screaming, crying and silence.

When I left that place I felt I’d escaped death. Now, I feel that no one cares about Syria. No one is helping us and we’re dying. If there was even 1% of humanity in the world, this wouldn’t happen.

I feel as though I’m dying from the inside. At least when I die this will be over. [At this point Wael begins to cry.] Torture is not only physical, it’s mental. When you see women and children scream and die, it has an effect. Each and every Syrian has been devastated mentally by this war.

Before, I laughed all the time, now I don’t, what do I have to laugh about? Some children from my village have become mute because of what they’ve seen. Young children are worse. They don’t understand why – none of us do, really. They are just sad, terrified children. These children used to be taken to the park by their mother, now their mothers are forcing them into basements for protection and they don’t understand.

There’s no way I can cope, no way I can turn over a new page. I have seen children slaughtered. I don’t think I’ll ever be OK again.

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