How Four Child Refugees Said Goodbye to Syria

Helen (left) and Sara (right), two of the "Children of Syria" in FRONTLINE's documentary chronicling a family's escape from Syria to a new life as refugees in Germany.

Helen (left) and Sara (right), two of the "Children of Syria" in FRONTLINE's documentary chronicling a family's escape from Syria to a new life as refugees in Germany.

April 19, 2016

On the morning that Sara and her family fled their home in Aleppo, she asked her mother a question that will sound familiar to parents of young children everywhere: “Can I take the toys with me?”

Even in the middle of a war zone, as they’re preparing to leave the only home they’ve ever known to start a new life as refugees, kids will be kids.

That’s one of the unforgettable lessons that emerges in the new FRONTLINE documentary Children of Syria — a startlingly intimate look at the Syrian war and the refugee crisis, through the eyes of some of the youngest people living through them.

Airing Tuesday on PBS and filmed over three years, the documentary tells the story of four children — Sara, Farah, Helen and Mohammed — who FRONTLINE first met in 2013, when their neighborhood had become a front line in the battle between the Assad regime and anti-government rebels like their father.

Sara, 4, had nightmares in which she was shot by snipers. Farah, 7, could tell apart rockets and tank shells based on the sounds they made when they landed outside. Mohammed, 12, said he didn’t have any feelings left, and 10-year-­­old Helen said she just wanted her sisters and brother to be happy.

But the family — including mother Hala and father Abu Ali, one of the first members of the Free Syrian Army rebel group — was whole: “We aren’t scared because we are with our father,” Helen says.

Soon, though, the children are forced to explore what it means to means to say goodbye. In this excerpt from Children of Syria, it’s January 2015, and everything has changed: The family says Abu Ali was kidnapped by ISIS, and amid escalating violence, Hala has made the decision to flee Syria for the sake of her children’s future.

“I’ll miss my school and my friends so much,” says Mohammed as his family makes the journey to the Turkish border.

Sara, the youngest, has left something behind other than her toys: “I took a piece of my heart and put it on the door of our house for him … for daddy,” she says in the below clip. “We love you, Syria,” Sara says. “Forgive us.”

In Children of Syria, follow Sara and her family on the next steps in their journey, as they join millions of Syrians who have fled the brutal fighting inside their country, seeking safety, stability and the chance at a better life in an exodus that has helped fuel Europe’s largest migration crisis since the end of World War II.

With leaders in Europe and the United States grappling with how to respond to the crisis, Children of Syria is a rare, on-the ground look at what it means to be a refugee.

Children of Syria premieres on-air and online on Tues., April 19 at 10 p.m. EST.

Patrice Taddonio

Patrice Taddonio, Digital Writer & Audience Development Strategist, FRONTLINE



In order to foster a civil and literate discussion that respects all participants, FRONTLINE has the following guidelines for commentary. By submitting comments here, you are consenting to these rules:

Readers' comments that include profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, harassment, or are defamatory, sexist, racist, violate a third party's right to privacy, or are otherwise inappropriate, will be removed. Entries that are unsigned or are "signed" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. We reserve the right to not post comments that are more than 400 words. We will take steps to block users who repeatedly violate our commenting rules, terms of use, or privacy policies. You are fully responsible for your comments.

blog comments powered by Disqus

More Stories

After a Bruising, Exhausting Pandemic Year, a Shard of Hope for Some in Tampa Bay
March 1 marked a year since Florida confirmed its first case of COVID-19. Tampa Bay Times spent the day with a grieving mother, a tired teacher, an optimistic outfitter, a frustrated florist and a woman still struggling to recover.
March 5, 2021
The Tension Between Border Town Police and Navajos is Real. And These People are Trying to Change That.
Research traces the conflict between Navajo Nation members and border town police back to the 1840s, when white settlers began occupying areas of Navajo land. These outcroppings became the border towns of today.
March 1, 2021
A Desert Shootout Spills Into Utah, Leaving One Man Dead and a Sergeant Facing Charges
A Colorado sheriff’s sergeant chased a car into Navajo Nation land in Utah and killed a man. Feds in Utah said the fatal shots were justified, but Colorado state prosecutors are now pressing charges tied to the shootout.
March 1, 2021
U.S. Strikes Iran-Backed Militias in Syria, Responding to Rocket Attacks
The U.S. strikes destroyed facilities used by a number of Iranian-backed militias, including Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada and Kata’ib Hezbollah. The latter figured heavily in our recent documentary "Iraq's Assassins."
February 26, 2021