Mohammed was happy with his family in Turkey. Photo / Jo Currie, World Visions
Mohammed was happy with his family in Turkey. Photo / Jo Currie, World Visions NZ Herald

Syria crisis weighs heaviest on the littlest

MOHAMMED is 18 months old and full of beans.

He scurries busily around the concrete block garage that his family now calls home in the Turkish border city of Urfa.

I'm meeting his parents who have recently crossed the border into Turkey. Isis arrived in their village on the outskirts of Aleppo last month, so the family crossed illegally into Turkey in the dead of night.

Mohammed is intrigued by our technology. His eyes hone in on our cameras, long lenses and iPhones and his little legs are soon scurrying across the concrete floor to our photographer, Jo Currie. He looks at her open camera bag and smiles. To him, it is a backpack-sized toy shop just waiting to be explored.

Two days earlier I was at the Serbia-Hungary border where thousands of refugees were entering Europe. At the end of the railway tracks that lead to Hungary, I spot a little boy in an adult-sized green puffer jacket.

I approach him and smile. He stares at me. Most Syrian refugee children are quick to smile but this little boy looks back at me with empty eyes. He doesn't move. Instead, he stands like a statue and stares into space and when I try again to make him smile he turns away. His face looks pained but I put it down to exhaustion. So many children get to the end of the 5km trek along the tracks and look as if they could sleep for a week.

I am distracted by a man who wants to know if he will be finger-printed by Hungarian police at the transit camp. I tell him what I know through our translator, Nada, and when I look back at the boy, his face has crumpled and he is crying. His father tries to comfort him and then sits with him on the edge of the tracks and takes off his green jacket and his shoes. That's when I see his feet.

It reminds me of "trench foot", a condition that soldiers suffered in World War I when they spent prolonged periods of time fighting in wet boots. It's been raining for three days and the boy's feet have gone white. The skin on the base of his toes is rubbed raw. Little wonder his face was so pained. Little wonder he wouldn't smile.

A health worker tells his father to bring him to their tent for treatment. His father follows the nurse across the muddied field to the mobile health clinic.

I think of the little boy in the green puffer jacket when I am sitting on the concrete floor in Turkey with Mohammed's family. Mohammed has toddled across to me and plonked himself on my lap and for the first time I see Mohammed's parents laugh. Jo Currie picks up her iPhone and snaps a photo.

"Can I keep him?" I ask.

It's a moment of lightness. It is always children who suffer most in times of war and even though the boy in the green jacket will mend and Mohammed seems to be coping, the boys face an uncertain future.

It wasn't a conflict they began and it's not one they can end. Sadly, when it comes to the story of the Syrian conflict, there are still many more chapters to be written.

- NZ Herald

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