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Syrians seeking peace find only unknowns.

World Vision
21 September 2015 by Kate Rose
Syrians seeking peace find only unknowns.

Zakaria - Photo by Kate Rose

I don’t know where Zakaria is now.

I don’t even know what I hope the answer is to the question of his whereabouts.

I met him almost two years ago to the day, a quiet, big-eyed four-year-old with a permanent wariness on his face, doing his best to blend into the walls of his family’s UNHCR-issued tent in Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp. The word that came to my mind at the time was “shell-shocked”, because somehow little kids are now being subjected to the same horrors that warranted coining a term for battle-scarred soldiers a hundred years ago. How’s that for human progress?

Zakaria had been playing in his backyard with his older siblings when a mortar shell exploded. His brother Mohammed’s stomach was ripped open, and shrapnel buried itself in his sister’s chest. Their parents grabbed their fourth child, their two injured children and Zakaria and ran. They stopped running long enough to seek medical help at a field hospital, then kept going into Jordan.

I don’t know where Zakaria is now.

Photo by Stephen Levitt

Mohammad (black t-shirt) his sister Ala’a (white shirt, red headscarf), Taleb (red t-shirt) and Zakaria (white t-shirt) with Tim Costello. Photo by Stephen Levitt

I don’t know if his family is still in Za’atari, where the wild wind makes weapons from the sand and the summer sun scorches the dry ground, or where the winter rains turn the roads to mud and battle the NGO engineers for the right to flood the tents. I don’t know if, on a still night, the sounds of fighting still charge through the darkness and find their way into a child’s ears.

Maybe Zakaria’s father, Antar, has found a way to take his family from Za’atari and they are living in the community in Jordan. But out there he wouldn’t necessarily have a safety net, and the inflation, rent and cost-of-living figures are sobering.

Image of the Za’atari Refugee camp.

Image of the Za’atari Refugee camp. Photo by Stephen Levitt

While Australia, parts of Europe and the US shuffle their feet and reluctantly agree to take a few thousand of the four million Syrian refugees looking for shelter outside their wartorn country, Syria’s nearest neighbours have been inundated. Jordan has more than 629,000 refugees, Lebanon more than 1.1 million. Egypt, Turkey and Iraq are the other countries carrying the burden of compassion’s obligation. Iraq. Egypt. Lebanon. It’s a list that speaks volumes about the humanity of the people and governments in these countries that are themselves prone to instability, as well as the desperation of the people fleeing. What would it take to make you grab what you could and run to Iraq? Run to Iraq with children?

Photo by Stephen Levitt.

Zakaria with some friends. Photo by Stephen Levitt.

When I met Zakaria and his family it already felt as if the Syrian conflict had long outstayed its welcome, and if you had asked me then where Zakaria would be in two years the answer would have been easy – back in Damascus with his family, starting school and playing in his backyard again.
Maybe they tried to get to Europe. Maybe they tried crossing to Greece or Turkey by sea. Maybe Antar thought it would be worth it. His children wanted to be doctors and teachers, maybe Antar knew that would never happen in a camp, but could in Germany or France or England or Australia. Part of me hopes they are still in Za’atari, at least this month when my dreams are being haunted by another Syrian child, the inconvenient human flotsam washing ashore to pierce the flimsy political rhetoric of our leaders.

Za’atari Refugee Camp. Photo by Nicholas Ralph.

Za’atari Refugee Camp. Photo by Nicholas Ralph.

As trains of refugees flood into Germany some 75 years after trains filled with children left, I don’t know where Zakaria is. Of the 10,000 Jewish children sent to safety as part of the Kindertransport at the start of the Second World War, there were four future Nobel prizewinners. If Australia had four Laureates for every 10,000 head of population there’d be a run on every suit hire store in the country come December when the ceremony is held. I wonder what potential is being denied the world as children sit in camps, without education, as their ambitions and dreams slowly die, starved of the oxygen they need to live and grow. I wonder what the world lost when a little boy washed up on a foreign shore? What will the world lose if Zakaria never sees the inside of a classroom? I hope he’s at least made it that far, to reading, writing, learning, letting his imagination fly beyond bombs and brutality.

I don’t know where Zakaria is now.

I don’t even know what I hope the answer is to the question of his whereabouts.

Kate Rose Kate Rose

Kate Rose is World Vision Australia's website editor and was recently deployed to South Sudan to support the emergency response.


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