Syrian refugee children work Beirut streets to support families

Young Syrian refugees look for shoe-shine clients in Beirut. Photograph: Sam Tarling/the Guardian

Young Syrian refugees look for shoe-shine clients in Beirut. Photograph: Sam Tarling/the Guardian

On a Friday night in Beirut, tiny figures weave in and out of the traffic between moving cars. They stand on tiptoes to peer through vehicle windows in an attempt to charm drivers out of a dollar or two.

The children are Syrian refugees, often the sole breadwinners for their families, working through the night selling flowers and shining shoes. They come from families stuck in limbo in Lebanon, and whose parents desperately want to go back to Syria.

A group of young boys between 11 and 19 seem to have marked their territory along the stretch of bars and restaurants between the Gemmayzeh and Mar Mikhael neighbourhoods in the north-eastern part of the Beirut.

One of them, Abdullah, smokes heavily but still sucks his thumb. He alternates between the two habits while tucking a plastic container of crumpled flowers under his arm. He says he is 13 but looks much younger as he recalls his first night selling flowers in Beirut, after fleeing his home in Aleppo with his family nearly five years ago.

“I was scared that someone would come and rob me or do something to me,” he says. “I was shy and embarrassed. If I saw a couple kissing I used to close my eyes, but now I am used to it.”

Read more here. (Original in Guardian)

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