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Rita, a Childhood Spent Seeking Refuge

August 24, 2020

Part 1 in a 3-part Series Following One Syrian Refugee Child

An account written By Ruhi Loren Akhtar in 2016 whilst volunteering in Idomeni Camp at the Greece – Macedonia (FYROM) Border.

‘I have spent my childhood (waiting/living) at the borders of many lands ‘Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Greek and Macedonia (FYROM)’. I only want a safe childhood and to be able to learn again.’

Rita is the youngest of my Syrian sisters as I called them. I met her in Idomeni refugee camp on the Greek-Macedonia border. This was a large, unofficial refugee camp hosting 15,000 people at its peak. This was the first camp I arrived at in Greece, and all I saw was devastation upon devastation for miles in front of me. I met Rita and her sister Heba here, on my first day of volunteering.

Rita was eleven years old at the time but appeared to be smaller than expected for her age. I couldn’t help but wonder if the lack of stability, nutrition and the dangerous journeys she had overcome for safety since the civil war started in Syria, had affected her growth.

Her elder sister, Heba, told me that Rita had only completed one year of her education before their lives were disrupted due to the Syrian civil war, when she was six years old. This little girl was put in jail with her family for three days, as they tried to cross borders to sanctuary. They had no choice as air strikes bombed down in their home city of Aleppo, threatening their lives.

She made a dangerous ‘plastic boat’ journey from Turkey to Chios, which was frightening due to choppy waters and over crowding because of greedy smugglers. Not to mention they were already tired and upset at having to leave their whole lives behind.

Rita and her elder sister Heba at Idomeni Camp.

Soon after I met them at Idomeni, Rita and her family of nine people embarked on a dangerous journey from Greece, through to Macedonia (FYROM) and then Serbia. They used GPS on their mobile phone to cross through the dangerous jungle with the constant risk of being captured by police and sent back. For this part of the journey they walked for nine days!

Is this normal that people have to endure this? In this day and age? A child who should be listening to pop music and going shopping with her friends? We talk about the atrocities against mankind during World War II. We promised never again to turn a blind eye. Yet why is it that this is happening, and these real life experiences remind me of the war movies I have seen and accounts I have read??

At the time of writing this account, Rita and her family were waiting on the Serbia/Hungary border (Kelebia). Approximately three hundred refugees were stuck there in horrifying conditions, lacking in medical care and basic necessities. “It is even worse than Idomeni camp,” Heba told me. The Hungarian authorities were only letting 15 people seeking refuge through the border everyday, and more were arriving daily.

Here is Rita when she was living in a tent on the Greek-Macedonia (FYROM) border. She holds up a sign in peaceful protest against the closure of the border.

Photo Credit : Guevra Nabi. All Relevant Permissions Sought to Share Image.

Rita has a message for the world:

‘I have spent my childhood (waiting/living) at the borders of many lands ‘Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Greek and Macedonia (FYROM) and I only want a safe childhood and to be able to learn again.’ She requests a safe passage to get to Germany where her uncle lives. ‘

Rita and her three sisters have just as much right to an education as my biological sisters do.

I request you all to share Rita’s story. Be her voice and the voice of other children suffering due to war. There are millions of children worldwide like Rita who’s basic human rights are being violated.

Follow part 2 and part 3 of this series to discover where and how Rita is now.

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