Children from 12 camps in northwest Syria mark the end of the Tokyo Olympics with their own competition

09 August 2021 | Ali Haj Suleiman | Middle East Eye

Displaced children from camps across northwest Syria gathered on Saturday to compete in the ‘Tent Olympics’ as the Tokyo Olympics drew to a close.

The 120 boys and girls met in al-Yaman camp, near Idlib city.

Nearly three million people, two-thirds of whom are internally displaced people from across Syria, live in the Idlib region, which is controlled by the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham alliance of Islamist militant groups. Rebels and other Islamist militants are also present in the area.

Sports included horse racing, hurdles, running, gymnastics and karate.

“I participated in the Olympics today, in the gymnastics competition,” Haider Jumaa, an 11-year-old boy who was forced to leave his home two years ago, told Middle East Eye. “I hope to develop my skills and become a gymnastics professional.”

The day provided a rare moment of joy for many of the children.

The government escalated its attacks on the rebel bastion in northwest Syria in June and July, with President Bashar al-Assad vowing to make “liberating those parts of the homeland that still need to be” one of his top priorities, as he took the oath of office for a new term last month.

On Saturday evening, four children were reportedly killed in the region by government shelling.

Hussain al-Ali, who took part in events including running, said: “I hope that these sports activities and competition between the camps will continue and that I return to my home.”

Ibrahim Sarmini, the coordinator of the event, said: “we are very proud of the refugee team participating in the Tokyo Olympics, and we stand with them and encourage them as they represent us.”

Two Syrian refugee brothers from Aleppo met on the sidelines of the Olympics at the opening ceremony, with one representing the refugee team and the other representing the official Syrian team.

A deal brokered in March last year by Russia and Turkey, which back opposite sides in the conflict, has eased fighting on the front line, but the region remains in the government’s sights.

Around half a million people have been killed in Syria’s war since 2011 when the government brutally cracked down on anti-government protests.