As the conflict in Syria enters its eighth year, millions of children have been uprooted from their homes and separated from family members. Approximately 2.7 million Syrian children have fled to neighbouring countries and to Europe, braving dangerous journeys in search of safety and opportunities for a better future.
Across Europe, many refugee and migrant children spend long months in reception centres that are not suitable for children. They also face challenges in accessing basic services such as school, kindergartens and health care.
UNICEF is supporting the long-term integration of refugee and migrant children into the communities where they now live, including reinforcing national efforts to protect more than 21,000 refugee and migrant children in Greece. We are also providing psychosocial support and education, while strengthening national child protection systems to benefit all children who are vulnerable.
UNICEF has also been working with partners to develop a Roadmap that provides guidelines to improve the care and protection of unaccompanied and separated refugee and migrant children, whether they are travelling alone or with others, and to support them in reuniting with their families.
The asylum system in Germany has been over-stretched causing big challenges with restrictions and delays in family reunification. As a result, families remain torn apart, adding to the stress children already face and denying them their right to a family.
Below we hear from four Syrian youths – three in Greece and one in Germany – in letters they have written themselves about their experiences, their frustrations and their wishes for reconnecting with family, friends and teachers last seen in Syria.
“I wish that my home country will be safe again.”
Osama (pictured above), a 10-year-old boy from Syria, now living in Germany
"It has been two and a half years since I left my beloved country Syria. I stayed with my mother and three of my sisters in Turkey, whereas my father has headed with my elder sisters and my brother to Germany through the journey of death crossing the sea. I suffered under a lot of fear and worry, I was afraid that they will drown in the sea like many other Syrians, but my father promised me that he will stay alive, that he will reach the other side and that he will see me again. And I did see him again; after a few months and a very hard trip, we were able to follow them.
We arrived in Germany on October 17, 2015. We were able to get together in one house with my father, brother and sisters after one month of our arrival. I was really happy that we were able to be together again. We applied to the German schools and started going to school and here our suffering with the new language started. I tried my best to get over this obstacle as fast as I could, and in a short period of time I was able to learn the basics of the language, which helped me in getting to know new friends, and the new society and culture that I now live in. Our teachers were really nice to us and they have helped us to get over a lot of obstacles, which we ran into every day.
Here in Germany, I have been through many experiences with my new friends. I have learned about different cultures because Germany has so many nationalities, this is fun for me. I have seen many German cities and learned closely about their culture. I am happy in this new country, but I could not forget about my home country Syria during these past two years. I miss my friends, my teachers, my toys and even my photos, which I could not bring with me. It hurts knowing that I left the place in which I grew up and I had so many memories in with my grandfather, grandmother, my relatives and my friends. In my home country, everything was simple but beautiful and warm.
Here in Germany, we are offered the best educational chances, however, I am still a refugee and this word hurts me. It causes me a wound that reminds me of my bigger scar - Syria - in which up until this moment, children’s body parts are falling under the ruins of buildings. I wish that my home country will be safe again and that war would stop forever. I also hope to be able to visit it again to see my friends, my teachers and my relatives."
“My parents are in Germany and I haven’t seen them for more than a year.”
By Bayan, an 11-year-old girl from Syria, now living in Greece
“Before the war, my life in Syria was very nice. We had as much money as we wanted, a house in Deir Ez-Zor and food to eat. But the situation became very difficult, especially when the war and the bombings started and when ISIS came. You couldn’t show your face or wear a T-shirt or jeans. You had to wear all black, everything black. Even boys could no longer go out on their own. There were cars passing near the house telling people that they had to pray. One time they took my father, but they let him go quickly.
When the planes started coming, my siblings were afraid and hid under their beds and the TV stand. Sometimes they took their toy weapons and said that they would stop the planes, but I explained to them that they cannot do that.
In order to leave the country, we had to give up all our money and then borrow some more. It was very scary to come to Greece and we tried three times to make it. Now, I have been living in Skaramangas camp for seven months with my uncle and his family. My parents are in Germany and I haven’t seen them for more than a year. We are all safe now, but everyone is in a different country.
When I grow up, I want to become a surgeon. I would like people to come to me, so that I can help them, just as my doctors helped me when I needed it. If someone helps me to make my dream come true, then I will be able to help this person, too. I will bring medicine to them and whatever else they need. I just need a little assistance to make it."
“In my books, my studies, I can feel freedom.”
Azhar, an 18-year-old girl from Syria, now living in Greece
“We left Syria exactly 29 months, 19 days, and 4 hours ago. Back home, in Kobani, I had almost finished school when it was shut down due to fighting. With my mother’s blessing, I travelled to Aleppo to take part in the end of year exams. I studied in the daytime and listened to bombs at night. After completing exams, I was on a bus going home when the vehicle was stopped by ISIS fighters. Girls were permitted to continue their journey, but boys were removed and kidnapped. I never heard what happened to them. The first thing I packed when I left Syria, was my diploma.
We wanted to go to Germany, where we have close relatives. But when we arrived in Greece there was a new agreement and we could no longer continue our journey. Sometimes I feel trapped. But in my books, my studies, I can feel freedom. I’ve lost so much time. There is so much I want to do, but I can’t do it here. I wake up in Skaramangas camp every morning, I see six people in our tiny room, and I think: ‘I need to make this situation better. I have to fight, and every day I fight to improve.
In the camp, I’ve started working with volunteers to teach Arabic, mathematics and English to five-year olds. The sense of being needed gives me purpose and hope. It gives me a way to forget about our situation. I want to fix the things that are wrong. I want to be a leader to help people who need help all over the world, and help the women who are oppressed.”
"What do I miss about home? Waking up and being with my family, playing with my friends."
Ahmet*, a 15-year-old boy from Syria, now living in Greece
“I left Syria at the end of February 2016. I came from Raqqa where my family lives, because the army of Da’esh (Isis) wanted me to go to fight. My parents decided it was safer if I left to join my brothers; so I left with my uncle, my aunt and their children. My parents stayed in Raqqa, together with my younger siblings.
They can’t leave and there is often no phone signal. They’re happy I am out of the country and away from the war. But I am not happy at all. How can I be happy so far from my parents, my brothers, my country?
What do I miss about home? Waking up and being with my family, playing with my friends. We’d swim in the lake, play football. I really liked school, but it’s so long since I went there. I liked math and languages. I wanted to be a doctor. But Da’esh stopped school, stopped us playing on the computer.
Here in Athens, I don’t go out. I don’t know the areas, and it is frightening. I don’t have any friends here. My uncle says the streets are dangerous. My brother, who is in Hamburg, just says to be patient, everything will be OK - he’s looking forward to seeing me. He said he could send money to me, but I told him to send it to Syria - the family needs it more than me.
My aunt and her family will leave Greece before me. I will have to wait longer to join my brother and I’m going to feel very alone. I only have one thing now that I had at home - it’s a jacket I like. Black with gold zip, and gold on the shoulders. It’s too small now, but I don’t want to lose it. I used to be so happy, when we were all together. My hope? It’s to meet my brother and get my parents from Syria.”
*Name changed for protection reasons