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Syrian children born in wartime were orphaned by the deadly earthquake

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In a hospital in quake-stricken northwest Syria, 8-year-old Hana continues to ask for news of her family, unaware that she is the only survivor among her immediate relatives.

Her father, mother and 4-year-old sister were among the nearly 40,000 people killed in the twin 7.7 and 7.6 magnitude earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria on February 6.

After years of war and displacement in Syria, the catastrophe orphaned many children when their families were lost under the rubble.

“She keeps asking for her father, mother and sister,” said Abdullah Sharif, Hana’s uncle, at Maarat Misrin Hospital in Idlib Governorate, northwestern Syria.

“We haven’t dared tell her the truth yet.”

Hana was trapped for 33 hours under the rubble of her collapsed building in the border town of Harem, before she was pulled out and rushed to a hospital some 25 kilometers (15 miles) away.

When she got there, she was “in critical condition,” said her doctor, Basil Setif. “She suffered severe dehydration, being under the rubble without food or water and in the cold weather.”

Hana’s condition has since stabilized, and she smiles occasionally despite the injuries to her face.

But Setif said her left arm, wrapped in a cast, was shattered during the quake, noting that his team is doing everything they can to save it.

“She has now left the intensive care unit, and her condition is stable. But she is at risk of having her arm amputated.”

“shock over shock”

In a hospital room filled with Valentine’s Day balloons, Hana’s uncle stays by her side. But he fears that her condition will only get worse when she learns of the fate of her family.

The little girl has nothing but her grandparents and uncles to raise her in this opposition-held region, which is home to some 4 million people, many of them displaced from other parts of war-torn Syria.

Last week’s earthquake affected more than 7 million children, including 2.5 million in Syria alone, according to James Elder, a spokesman for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

He says that the disaster has increased the misery of the Syrian children, who have only witnessed tragedy in their lives due to the war that broke out more than a decade ago.

Elder said that every child under the age of twelve has “knew nothing but conflict, violence, or homelessness.” “Some of the children have been displaced six or seven times.

“For many of these children… this is trauma as well as trauma.”

Samah Hadid of the Norwegian Refugee Council also warned that children are “at significant psychological risk due to the scale of the trauma”.

Only screams

Three-year-old Arslan was the only survivor in his family after the building in Harem was one of at least 35 destroyed.

His uncle, Izzat Hamdi, says rescuers kept digging for three days to find the bodies of Arslan’s father, mother and brothers.

“We found the father’s body embracing the boy,” Hamdi, 30, said, adding that the mother’s body was found two meters away.

Since then, the little boy has been placed in intensive care, and Hamdi has been watching him.

Doctor Omar Al-Ali from the Sarmada Children’s Hospital said that “the child’s lower limbs were shattered” and he suffered internal damage.

For Obada Dhikra, a member of the White Helmets rescue group operating in rebel-held areas of Syria, the first hours of the earthquake disaster were the most painful.

“We could only hear the children’s screams and moans,” he said, referring to the short bursts of joy whenever rescuers found a baby alive.

“We have brought out many children who are still alive, but also dead,” he said.

“The children of our region have lived through many tragedies. We hope that they will live a different life… and enjoy the support that any child in the world gets.”

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