The mother of a British boy who finally escaped Syria after being trapped in the war-torn country for more than three years has described how her son watched a school friend suffer mortal injuries after a barrel bomb was dropped on their playground.
Birmingham-born Muadh Zain was just three when his Syrian mother Doha took him to see her family near Deraa, the opposition stronghold where the uprising began in 2011. Now in safety having crossed the border into Jordan last week, Mrs Zain has spoken of the horrors they endured.
“Muadh’s school was at the edge of the village, barrel bombs were dropped from aeroplanes, they exploded near his schoolyard,” she told the BBC. “He was inside but there was a girl outside, a friend, she was wounded… later, she died. One of the few words Muadh speaks while I was there, is Lubna. It is the name of the dead girl.”
A favourite uncle was killed in the bombing of their homes, hit by shrapnel, and died in front of Muadh. Still confused and traumatised, Muadh, now six, clings to his mother wherever she goes.
They have had to flee town after town as the conflict followed them whenever they tried to seek sanctuary. Along with the rest of the village, they abandoned their homes, sleeping in the open under olive trees or taking shelter in a nearby school.
Mrs Zain said: “We couldn’t stand it anymore in the area where we lived, there were lots of clashes and operations. Our house is near to clashes. Now the area where our house is, is totally destroyed. There is no way we could stay there. We tried to move, but it was the same, shelling, scud missiles. There is no way we could stay there.”
Muadh’s father Wael Zain, 30, had fought a campaign to get his son home. Following a petition and support from the public, the British Embassy in Amman worked with Jordanian authorities to obtain permission for the pair to cross to safety last week.
Mrs Zain, who is separated from her husband, is waiting for her visa to be processed. She did have indefinite leave to remain status when she left the UK but it expired when she became trapped in Syria.
Muadh cannot read or write in either English or Arabic as gaining an education was impossible while he and his mother hid from the bombing. He has also developed trouble with his eyes and needs to see a specialist as soon as he returns home.
Despite the trauma, Mrs Zain said her son misses Syria, especially the friends he left behind, but she said Muadh is beginning to feel safe again.
She said: “He tired me out in the first days here, he cried all of the time, it was the change in atmosphere. But he is better now, and he plays with the other kids. He is clearly feeling more comfortable.”
In London, where he works for financial services giant Allianz in Canary Wharf, Mr Zain said: “I hope the Home Office will appreciate what Muadh’s been through, and give his mother a visa. He’s been through a lot of trauma and he’s seen things adults would get traumatised about - his uncle was killed right in front of him.”
The family have more meetings arranged with the embassy in the Jordanian capital, Amman. The Foreign Office will not comment in detail on the case, but said: “We remain in touch with Mr Zain and will continue to provide consular assistance as necessary.”