In Refugee Week in June 2022, St Christopher’s School in Hove was holding a donator day. The children brought donations for Care4Calais, and were going to make up bags of essentials for refugees stuck in Calais. To provide some context, Lily Smart from St Christopher’s School in Hove invited me to speak to the children in assembly, along with Hermione, a volunteer with Care4Calais. I wanted to read them a story about what it was like for a small child to escape their country because of war. It was hard to find a story that was suitable for listeners of 6+, so I adapted this story from my book, Far From Home.
I think it went well. Lily emailed me afterwards:
‘Thank you SO MUCH for today! The story was brilliant and the children got so much out of it.’
Escaping from Syria was the longest journey ever – through six countries on boats and trains, and walking for days on end. It was also the scariest journey ever. But staying in Syria would have been even more scary because of the war. So many houses on our street were hit by bombs that it looked like a mouth with half of the teeth missing.
I was very little when we left Syria. I can’t remember my country at all, but I still remember the journey. My whole family escaped – my mum Naleen, my dad Dara and my baby brother Pulat.
First we travelled to Turkey, our next-door country. That was no problem. But then we had to go to Greece across the sea. Dad told me we were going on a boat trip, which sounded really exciting. I’d never been on a boat before. This trip was no fun at all though.
Dad was shocked when he saw the little boat.
‘There are 40 people here. How will we all fit in?’
We were squashed in so tightly that if you stuck out your elbow, you’d knock someone into the water. It was night, and the sky and the sea were pitch black. Dad held me tightly to his chest and rocked me gently; it was chilly, but somehow I managed to sleep.
I woke up to hear people clapping and cheering – we had reached Greece safely. Some of the older people were crying with joy. People got out their phones to tell their families we’d made it to dry land.
It was July, and even at breakfast time, it was baking hot. ‘Don’t worry,’ mum said, ‘we’re catching a bus to the next country – Macedonia’. But we waited for hours and hours, and the bus never came. So we had no choice but walk, along with other refugees we’d met on the boat. The adults took it in turns to check the map on their phones.
After a while, my legs were aching. Mum and dad had to carry me and Pulat, as well as our bags.
‘We have to cross the border secretly’, dad said the next night.
‘What’s a border?’ I asked.
He explained: ‘The border is the line that divides one country from the next one. We’re nearly at the border with Macedonia now. You must stay quiet and not make a sound.’ Everyone turned off their torches and we crept as silently as mice. No one spotted us.
In Macedonia, we caught a train. I was starving and wanted a snack. But mum and dad were so exhausted that they’d fallen asleep the moment we sat down. All around, the adults were snoring. So I played with Pulat and tried to forget my rumbling tummy.
After the train, we were on our feet again, walking through a forest. Again, dad told me to be as quiet as a mouse. The adults had heard that there were bandits, waiting behind the trees to rob any travellers. The men picked up big sticks to protect us and walked on the outside of our group. We children were in the middle with our mothers, holding on to them tightly. It was terrifying. Luckily, no bandits appeared, and we made it to the next country, Hungary.
But our troubles weren’t over yet. When we arrived, the police arrested us. They took away our bags, so we lost all our clothes and toys, and even Pulat’s nappies. I had one tiny teddy in my pocket but I lost my favourite blanket.
In the prison cell, we were packed together like chickens in a coop. All the adults were arguing about what to do, all the babies were yelling, and all I could do was cover my ears. I counted three night-times before we were let out.
Dad and mum had hidden some money somewhere – I think it was in their socks. Mum made a call, a man arrived in a car, and mum gave him the money. After many more journeys, we finally arrived in a country called Holland. Mum gave me a big smile and hugged me close. ‘We’re safe now’, she said.
By Cath Senker, 2022, based on