In the spring of 2011, protests erupted in the Middle Eastern country of Syria against President Bashar al-Assad’s government. The protests were met with violence. The conflict gradually led to rebellion. Now, Syria is experiencing a civil war that has already left over 400,000 people dead and created 4.8 million refugees who have left the country, as well as another 6.3 million who have had to flee their homes for elsewhere in Syria. Millions more have been left in poor living conditions with shortages of food and drinking water. The following account comes from a 16-year-old Syrian girl named Amira detailing the past three years of her life in a refugee camp in the neighboring country of Lebanon.As you read, take notes on the different ways Amira’s life has changed since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war.
Amira is a pretty normal 16 year-old. She’s got the usual interests: pop music, boys and her mobile phone.
But, along with 30 million other children and young people around the world, she’s a refugee. Amira lives in a camp with her family after fleeing the civil war in Syria. This is her story, in her own words.
One night the bombs were coming closer and closer. We were all sitting together downstairs because we couldn’t sleep. As houses were being destroyed one by one in our village, neighbours were running from one house to the next. So some neighbours were gathered in our house too.
A rocket landed on the roof of our house, but no one was injured. We ran in fear to another house. We were so terrified we didn’t even think about taking anything with us. Soon after, our house was totally destroyed. We left with no IDs, nothing.
Our dad took us out of the country through a smuggler. We escaped that night in a rented car. Whenever we passed a checkpoint, we hid under the seats of the car and the driver covered us up.
We crossed the border illegally, through the mountains. We got out near the border and had to walk about 100 metres across the mountain. When we heard a plane, we started running. We were very scared.Q1
The Camp: Life on Hold
When we arrived at the refugee camp, there were already many tents. We bought some materials to make a tent—some wood and plastic sheeting. The men built it. Our tent has two rooms and a kitchen area. There are 13 of us living here.
The neighbours helped us by giving us things like bottled water, mattresses, blankets, cups and plates. We could pick up and leave at any time, as we don’t have anything of value here. My most treasured things are my necklaces. I wear them all at the same time, because they have many memories. One was given to me by a boyfriend, but I don’t want my mother to know about that!
We have so many needs that you can’t count them. At home things were cheap. Everything is expensive here. We even have to pay for water. In winter there was snow halfway up the sides of our tent and we couldn’t even see out of it. At home we had our own bedrooms, but here we all sleep together in the tent on the ground.Q2
We can’t go to school here, and there are no jobs available because too many people are looking for work. We don’t even have any books. So we just help out with cooking and cleaning, or watch TV all day. We are really bored.
To pass the time we do each other’s hair and draw pictures of each other, or listen to popular songs on the TV. We also make our own clothes.
We are afraid because the government doesn’t know we are here. If they find out, we could be sent back to Syria. But the UN protects us.
Some of the people who are not registered go into the mountains and hide whenever the officials come to count people in the camp. Then they come back to the camp afterwards.Q3
We hear from home mostly via WhatsApp and sometimes TV. Only a few old people are still living in our village. There are a few rooms still standing in the destroyed houses, and they live in those.
We have to pay for water to be brought in by truck, but it’s very dirty. But now we have a water filter in our tent. We now have a latrine that was installed by an NGO. We receive food distributions, so we have enough food. We make large amounts of simple meals that we can share out easily for all the children, like rice, beans and peas. There are shops, hairdressers and tailors here.
It helps to know that we are not alone, as there are many others here in the same situation as us.
We’ve been here for three years now. We miss everything about home. We would love to go back.Q4
100 meters is about 328 feet.x
UN stands for the United Nations, an organization of 193 countries formed after World War II to prevent international conflict and promote world peace.x
WhatsApp is a mobile messaging app that allows people to exchange messages without having to pay for a text messaging plan.x
A latrine is a toilet or outhouse, especially one used by large groups in a camp.x
NGO stands for “non-governmental organization,” which is any not-for-profit citizens' group that is organized on a local, national, or international level.x