Suddenly, he was grabbed by the scruff of the neck by a police officer. “It doesn’t help to solve the situation,” Abir Abi Khalil, a child protection officer for UNICEF, said of the arrests.
Towering over him, the officer stamped his leather boot on Mohammed’s foot and shined a flashlight in his eyes. “It’s a vicious cycle.” After Mohammed’s arrest the previous week, he spent a night at the police station.
“Syria was the most beautiful place in the world,” said Mohammed. Syrian rebels had stormed the nearby city of Aleppo, and the government began launching airstrikes.
As the battle raged in July 2012, Mohammed’s mother, Umm Alaa, decided the family should seek security in Lebanon.
She says she has no choice but to send her children out to work.
And so Mohammed and his older brother, Alaa, 12, spend about 10 hours selling flowers each night, keeping an eye out for each other and trying to avoid the police.
Mohammed, shivering in an orange T-shirt, repeated the steps with other potential customers until he had sold all 10 of his flowers.
A beating from his mother awaits him if he doesn’t sell out, he says, so he often roams the streets until 3 a.m.
The boys’ patch stretches along a few blocks at the end of Beirut’s bustling Hamra Street, where Syrian accents are now as common as Lebanese ones. Now they don’t.” Alaa had stayed home, so Mohammed teamed up with Diab, an 11-year-old tissue seller from Damascus, to try the bars closer to the city’s American University.
Mohammed tries to stay away from the bars: He doesn’t like drunks, and they don’t often buy flowers anyway. He had been arrested the week before and sent to a children’s shelter, where his normally meticulously slicked-back and parted hair was shorn to prevent lice. The high after Mohammed’s first sale of the evening — to a young couple who stroked his head and paid more than for a rose — proved short-lived. ” This time, he was let off with a warning and not hauled off to police custody.
Against that backdrop, Mohammed’s family sees little chance of returning soon.