Unaccompanied refugee minors who were forced to fight in Syria

“I attended school until 5th grade and then had to leave due to various obstacles, such as being breadwinner of the family. I want to continue my school and live a normal calm life.”

December 28, 2016 21:36
Aleppo, Syria

People stand near near rubble of damaged buildings in the northern Aleppo countryside in Syria in December 2016. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Since the beginning of the unrest in Syria that has turned into one of the most vicious sectarian wars of the past few decades, the Iranian government has assisted Syrian President Bashar Assad in every way possible.

Having more than three decades of experience in proxy wars, the Iranian government has been contributing much to save Assad. Their interests – such as sabotaging any democratic or peace process in the Middle East – destabilize the region and pave the path to fuel regional conflicts through Hamas, Hezbollah and other similar organizations.

Like any other sectarian war, the main actors of the Syrian war target vulnerable groups such as minors and exploit them for the sake of their own benefits.

The high number of refugees on the move seeking a safer life and risking their lives in the Mediterranean Sea is one of the consequences of the conflicts in the Middle East. The entire refugee population is vulnerable, although there especially vulnerable groups – such as single mothers and unaccompanied minors – among them.

“Dear uncle, please! Wire some money to me. I swear to God I have no money and my mother cannot help me now. I even borrowed a phone from a guy in the camp to call you,” an Afghan boy texted by phone in one of the refugee camps in Athens, Greece.

Often refugees run out of money and seek help from families, relatives and basically anyone who can help them to continue their journey. Meanwhile, unless and until funds get wired to them, they get stranded in the parks, or if lucky, in one of the few camps far from downtown. For unaccompanied minors, this is more difficult, as they are in risk of various traps while being stranded in Athens awaiting aid.

In practice, there is no efficient guardianship program for the unaccompanied refugee minors in Greece.

There have been reports of transferring unaccompanied minor refugees to official shelters in Athens while handcuffed.

Ali (pseudonym) was sent to the Pazouki military training camp in Varamin in Iran as a 16-year old boy by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to get basic training before being deployed to Syria.

“I was lucky that I made it alive. I was in Syria for two tours of 90 and 75 days. The last time I was there, we were 15 young friends, all Afghans from a Shi’ite background. The eldest was 19. Only three of us returned alive. The only reward that the families of the killed ones received was a free grave, although they were promised to be registered as martyrs’ family and enjoy its benefits.”

A large number of unaccompanied refugee minors enduring unbearably harsh experiences had to grow up quickly, often adapting adult lifestyles.

Implementing adult attitudes and dismissing childhood/juvenile matters can be seen by the minors as the best way to save themselves on their journey.

However, this solution often cannot save them.

Ali is but one of the Afghan children who have been induced to take part in the wars in Middle East. Many unaccompanied minors like Ali flee and seek asylum for the same reason.

“We were receiving a monthly salary of 2.5 million tomans (500 to 600 euros), and often the last payment could be suspended until the fighter showed up for the next tour. In addition, we were given a one-month resident permit after the first tour, allowing us to freely move around in Mashhad, Qom and Tehran. The promise was to receive a long-term (at least one year) residency after completing three tours to Syria.”

There are numerous unaccompanied minors departing daily from Afghanistan, Iran and other Middle Eastern countries toward western European states. These youths have suffered diverse horrible experiences, but they share one thing: they have been mistreated and traumatized by different groups, and the Syrian war can be counted as one of the worst places regarding forced children soldiers.

“Nobody who has power to make a choice would ever risk his life if he can stay back and watch,” said Ali, adding, “There were Iranian commanders and Basijis, but they were mostly in the kitchen or hundreds of meters away from front line with their walkie- talkies in hand, watching and commanding us.”

The children soldiers often go through moments that are unbearable even for adults. Furthermore, because they get involved against their will, traumatized and victimized.

Ali still carries the scars of two shells on his body. Based on his experience, the commanders give capsules to the fighters before dispatching them to the front line. Once he went into convulsion as a result of an overdose.

“I attended school until 5th grade and then had to leave due to various obstacles, such as being breadwinner of the family. I want to continue my school and live a normal calm life.”

Sometimes there is a minority inside a minority group that can get ignored unintentionally due to planning based on the needs of the group but not the needs of its individuals. Our understanding of the needs of unaccompanied minor refugees could be foster parents, shelter, school and some fun to raise their life standards to the level of the European children. This may not apply to all of them, especially the ones like Ali.

Obviously, when a youngster has been forced to take part in war kill in order to stay alive, a new peaceful post-battle life cannot be achieved merely by providing a pack of candy, some video games and new clothes.

There is an extreme need for more efficient and practical rehab programs for such children to transition them to normal life.

The writer, a human rights observer and journalist, has been working in Greece as the flood of refugees has been named the biggest humanitarian crisis since the World War II. He was born in Iranian Kurdistan and lives in exile in Norway.

Follow him on Twitter or Facebook; email him at Ramyar.hassani@gmail.com

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