By Jady Sit.
The world today has the highest number of displaced people since World War II – close to 60 million, of whom 20 million are refugees who have been forced to flee to another country, half of them being children. Syria, now in its fifth year of brutal conflicts, is the nation with the most refugees – an appalling 4.8 million.
Working on the Syrian refugee response, I was familiar with the swarming numbers and data of the Syria crisis. But it wasn’t until last May when I visited the region and met some of the refugees face to face, that the scale and chronic impact of the crisis on children and families began to sink into my heart.
“We don’t care about anything about ourselves. We don’t care if we live or die. We only care about our children,” a father who survived an abduction told us. The things that refugee parents say about their children are some of the things that strike me the most. It is as if their children’s future is the only thing that has kept them alive till now.
In late 2012, Abed and his family left their home in Syria and travelled two days by walking and vehicle to Lebanon. They took shelter in a simple-structured “house” built with cardboard and wooden planks in the Bekaa Valley, where informal tented settlements like his are scattered around.
Abed told us that he developed a heart problem eight months after their arrival; he had to undergo heart surgery and now needs expensive treatment and medication every month. All his children aged one to 15 years old are not in school, and Abed blames himself for not being able to support his wife and children due to his physical condition. “Yes. We feel safe [here], but we lost the future of our children because we are unable to give them education,” said Abed.
Abed’s wife had been sitting quietly and listening to our conversation. Towards the end of the meeting, we asked her if she had anything to say to people in Hong Kong. To my surprise, instead of asking for help, she said, “We pray for you, mothers in Hong Kong, to not go through what we have gone through, and to live better lives and be able to provide education for your children, because we can’t.”
Her genuine prayer broke my heart. Even in a hopeless state, she still kept a grip on hope to pray for others. It represented a simple yet common wish of every parent for their children.
Another father, Ziyad, who was at the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan, said he wished to return to Syria and to see safety restored there, so they could go back to the old life. But after saying that, he added, “We have too many wishes, but none of them come true.”
Today, Syrian children and families continue to suffer daily. While much of the media spotlight falls on refugees in Europe, most of the Syrians remain in the Middle East, in neighbouring countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
I hope you, too, could take a closer look behind the overwhelming refugee numbers, settlement issues, social controversies and political struggle, to see that these are ordinary families, ordinary moms and dads, struggling and hoping that some day when the conflict ends, their children could live a different yet better life.
This article was written by Jady Sit, Assistant Communications Officer of World Vision Hong Kong. June 20 marks the annual World Refugee Day. This year’s theme is designed to build empathy and understanding for people forced to flee by allowing the public to see refugees through the lens of “universal hopes and dreams.” Join us in standing with refugees and infuse hope into their lives again.