One Million Children From Syria Forced to Flee Their Country: The Story of Ibrahim and Yusuf

Ibrahim and his brother Yusuf* are from Syria. Until a few months ago, they were living with their parents in Al Bab, a small town North of Aleppo.

At the end of January, their lives were turned upside down. The brothers, 9 and 13, were playing with their bicycles outside of their house. Shortly before lunchtime, their mother sent them to the bakery to buy bread. On their way, an airstrike hit the town and a bomb fell about 100 meters away from them.

Worried, their mother asked the children’s father and their uncle to go look for them.

“Often, a first airstrike is followed by a second one in the same area,” said the boys’ uncle. They felt they had to bring the children back home as quickly as possible.

It didn’t take long for the father to find his sons. They were near the site of the blast and had joined a small crowd that had gathered to look at the damage. He told them to go back home with their bicycles. He got back into his car and drove home.

On their way back, the second strike came.  This time, the boys were hit. They survived but both were severely injured.

They were rushed to the local hospital. Ibrahim was turned away, but his older brother, in critical condition, was admitted.

“We thought he was going to die,” said his uncle.

Ibrahim was in better shape but had injuries to his right leg and abdomen. He needed urgent medical attention and they figured out the best way to get it was to take him to Turkey, just a short distance away. His uncle left with him while his parents stayed with Yusuf in Syria.

“At first, the doctors said they would save my leg,” said Ibrahim.  “And then, they could not.” Five days after the explosion, he lost half of his right leg.

In July, Ibrahim was living with his uncle and mother in a small apartment in Turkey. His brother Yusuf survived extensive wounds to his abdomen and is slowly recovering in a public hospital nearby.

During her recent mission to Syria and neighbouring countries, Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, met with several families whose lives have been forever changed because of airstrikes and shelling in Syria. Many lost children or other family members. Others, like Ibrahim and Yusuf were gravely injured and struggled to find medical assistance.

The mandate of the Special Representative was created to protect children from conflict. Ibrahim and Yusuf are now among the one million children from Syria that have sought refuge in countries such as Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt. Two million more have been forced to leave their homes and are displaced within Syria. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights estimates that some 7,000 have been killed since the beginning of the conflict.

Killing and maiming children and civilians during a conflict is a violation of international humanitarian law. In 2009, the United Nations Security Council made patterns of killing and maiming of children in conflict a trigger for inclusion on the Secretary-General’s list of shame of parties violating children’s rights.

The Syrian armed forces and affiliated militias have been on the list of shame since 2011.

* The children’s names have been changed to protect their identity.

Stephanie Tremblay is in charge of communications in the office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.