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"In 2012, I fled from Syria. This is what I remember."

The war in Syria began in March 2011. It's estimated that in the nine years since, at least 400,000 people have died. More than 6.6 million Syrians have fled since 2011, and another 6.7 million have been driven from their homes but are still trapped inside the country. Serly Shakkal fled with her family from Aleppo in 2012. Just days later, the airport closed. This is her story. 

In 2012, I fled from Syria. 

Syria, the country that I was born and raised in. It’s a country where I felt happy and safe. This is not just how I felt, but also how my family and everyone around me felt as well. It was safe to go out at midnight because everyone was out, whether they were eating or walking down the street. At school, we started at 7:30am and finished at around 2pm. Every Friday afternoon we’d have fun activities where we would learn about our religion. I had a group of great friends that I am still in contact with. Life was amazing and simple. 


Serly as a child in Syria. Image supplied.  

 Ever since I was little, I dreamt of visiting Australia. I remember my uncle sending photos of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. I imagined we’d maybe go for a holiday, and then come back to our home country of Syria. 

But then, in 2011, the war began. I was 10 years old, and the only thing I knew was what I was told: “This is war and we have to make it out safe.” My grandparents used to tell me their stories about war but the reality is that you never know how it really feels unless you’re living in that moment. I thought war was when you have two countries fighting against each other, but in Syria, we had multiple countries against one. Ten years later, there is still war in Syria. 

War is when you’re stuck at home, for months, without having the ability to go out. In our case, we weren’t able to go to school. The situation continued to get worse, so people started stocking up on supplies like powdered milk and meat. There was barely any water and electricity was only available for a few hours during the day so we lived on candle lights. But the most horrible thing of all was the constant sound of bombs. We could hear how close they were.

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We’ve all seen planes. We see them as machines that take us around the world to explore new places, cultures, traditions and food. But the planes that I saw were shooting planes. They were flying so close to buildings that it felt like they were going to hit them. 

A memory I’ll never forget was travelling to the airport. My family decided that it would be much safer to leave Aleppo (the city that I lived in) to go to Damascus (the capital city). I was so excited yet so nervous to leave because I knew that this could only go one of two ways. Either we got there safe or we didn’t, and if we didn’t, it could mean a variety of fates too terrifying to think about. 

Not only was I scared, but so were my family and my grandparents. I remember seeing endless empty streets because everyone had left the area, small bushes where shooters would hide and buildings that had been torn down. This was the most horrifying day of my life. Whatever you see on the news, from rubble to closed roads, it's nothing like seeing it in real life. 

We arrived at the airport two days before it closed. We made it to Australia, safe. 

Living in Australia has taught me to appreciate everything I have. I’ve learned that I can do anything I put my mind to, even when it feels so hard to achieve. After all the years of having to learn a new language and getting used to the education system here in Australia, I made it to university. I am currently studying a Bachelor of Science majoring in Human Biology at Macquarie University. I was a distinguished achiever in the HSC which was my goal at the beginning of Year 12 back in 2019. 

Eight years later, I can see what a different direction my own life has taken. But I think often about how little we hear about the innocent children dying every day back in Syria. 

In the busyness of our lives, we musn't forget them. 

 Here's what we can do to help:

You can donate to CARE Australia's Syria Appeal.

You can donate to World Vision's relief fund.  

You can support organisations like Welcome to Australia and the ASRC.

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