A journey from war-torn Syria to safety in Italy
Like more than six million Syrians, eight-year-old Siraj fled his home with his family when violence erupted. The journey was terrifying, but what they were fleeing was much worse.
“Many people died in our town. They were suddenly killed while going to work. We never knew how or why. A person would randomly disappear, without ever coming back. Some of these people were close to us,” says Siraj’s mother Elham.
And so in the dead of the night, their bus snaked its way stealthily to Lebanon. “We passed by Homs. Everyone was lying dead, everything was destroyed. We were really worried. Every time we got to a checkpoint, we were searched, and we started praying that we would get out alive,” says Elham.
On reaching Lebanon, the family was finally safe. But life was still hard and Siraj could have been easily forgotten in the sprawl and chaos of a refugee camp, where conditions are tough and refugees need to be even tougher to survive.
In 2019 we reported on Siraj’s life in the refugee camp; the grinding toil of his daily routine, and his hopes for a better future. His story is about the spirit, resilience and determination of one young boy in the face of extreme adversity – and how the right support at the right moment can make all the difference to a child’s life.
Life in a refugee camp
With four siblings and a mother to provide for, Siraj became the breadwinner. Backbreaking work interspersed with periods of going to school left him exhausted and helpless.
Siraj supported his family through working on farms and studying in the evenings.
Photo: Jonathan Hyams / Save The Children
“On a tough day I work from 4am [planting tomatoes],” he says. "After 10am I start carrying boxes. I spend my day, planting, picking, and carrying boxes. School starts at 1pm, and I get home around 6pm. When I come back home, I have dinner and study in my book and go to sleep."
“Sometimes I don’t even wash or eat, I just crash into bed. The work is so tiring.”
Then came the meeting that would change everything.
A meeting with Josette
Save the Children caseworker Josette met Siraj at one of our Child Friendly Spaces. She heard about his dreams of becoming a doctor, and how these dreams were fading away as he spent more and more time on earning the family income.
She knew something had to be done so that Siraj could live up to his potential.
“Our purpose is to give children like Siraj a better life. If we intervene in the right way, we might meet him again in 10 years and see him achieving his goals – ambitious and capable of supporting his family.”
Josette visits Siraj in his tent in the informal settlement in the Bekaa valley.
Photo: Nour Wahid/Save The Children
“After meeting the family and understanding their needs I decided that cash assistance might be a solution, especially with the children working to support the family,” says Josette.
“The mother understands that her children shouldn’t work but didn’t have any other options.
“I talked with her about how she can improve her clothing business and increase her income and how it will affect the children.”
After the cash grant, Elham was able to build her business and send Siraj back to school full-time.
Rebuilding a new life in Italy
Recognising, a tent is no place to call home for a family, Josette continued to support the family by recommending them for resettlement in Italy.
“Living here all Elham wanted to do was protect her family. Now, in a new country that offers a lot of support, they might fulfil all the dreams we couldn’t reach here,” she says.
Once again, the family faced huge upheaval as they relocated to another country. But behind their fear and sadness at leaving friends and family in Lebanon was a sense of hope and happiness at the chance of a real future.
“It was the right decision because here in Italy we can study,” says Siraj. “The most important thing is studying, to learn the language and to meet new people. We won’t work in the fields; we will work in companies, as doctors, anything.”