Children shouldn’t be victims: The hard life of a child refugee

When we ask refugees why they fled their country, the majority of people tell us that they left because they feared for the safety of their children. We heard harrowing stories of forced marriages, abductions, near-misses with snipers’ bullets, and spoke to a mother who lost twin one-year-olds in a bombing. Another mother asked her husband to leave before the rest of the family with their 6-year-old son, because she was so afraid for his safety. They’ve now been separated for 10 months. When they talk on the phone she says her son is always crying and asking when she is coming to join them.

We met an Afghani family who have moved several times in search of safety. In Afghanistan, the father was arrested and whipped by the Taliban. They moved to Pakistan, where they thought it would be safer. For a while, it was. But one day the three girls were traveling home from school, and a bomb went off in the city. Their mother kept them from school because she was afraid for them. Two weeks later her worst fears were realized when the girls’ school was bombed. It was then that they decided they had to try and leave.

In every camp we visited in Greece, smiling children welcomed us with hugs and kisses. They wanted to play, show us their toys or be picked up. As we were leaving one camp a girl chased after me to present me with a flower. Many of them are young, and don’t fully grasp the situation they’re in. But their parents do.

We spoke to many grim-faced parents who told us of their distress in not being able to properly care for their children, particularly when they’re sick.

“My child is sick and I don’t know how to get him medicine,” one man told us, while his young son wailed in misery. We also met Sana, a 7-year-old Yazidi girl who never stops smiling. You wouldn’t know that two weeks earlier she was badly burned when a pot of tea tipped over, and that she still has a nasty wound requiring treatment.

Pregnant women are also faced with the daunting task of caring for newborn babies in the camps. Hospitals will admit refugee women to have their babies, but if mother and child are healthy, they are quickly discharged and must return to the camp.

“I don’t want my baby to be born in the camp,” a 21-year-old Afghani woman tells us, explaining that the thought of bringing a newborn baby into this situation weighs heavily on her.

A refugee camp is no place for a child to grow up. In addition to inadequate food, shelter and medical services, there are few organized activities, and parents worry about a lost generation