Published On: Sun, May 26th, 2013

The Suffering of The Syrian Kids In Al-Zaatari Refugee Camp

There are an estimated 30,000 school-age children in the Za’atari refugee camp Lucy Lyon|Lucy Lyon | Amman | 25-May-2013  

“I used to feel sad because God didn’t give me children,” Hamouda, 43, says as she looks out on to a street dotted with well-watered trees. She is in the disused apartment hotel in an affluent district of Amman, Jordan’s capital, that is her new home. “My brother would try to make me feel better and say, ‘Don’t be sad. My children are yours if you want them.’ And we used to laugh.” But that was before Syria’s civil war claimed 80,000 lives, including those of her brother and sister-in-law. They were burnt alive after a government tank hit the vehicle in which they were fleeing with their children from their village in Dera’a, southern Syria. After rescuing the children, all Hamouda found in the burnt-out vehicle were the remains of her brother’s house key, which he always carried in his pocket. “God saved me these children,” she says, stroking the leg of Hannan, the youngest of her five new charges. “They still have shrapnel in their bodies, but they’re alive.” Hamouda is learning to be a mother in a foreign city. There are 24 widows and more than 70 children packed into one small building. Their modest savings will not last for ever. And Jordan’s over-saturated jobs market has no employment opportunities for the estimated influx of more than 500,000 Syrians.

Jordan is thought to have spent more than £400 million in aid to house, feed and educate Syrian refugees last year and this is expected to reach £530 million by the end of this year..”

Jordanian citizens have been generous — offering lodgings, money, clothing and food — but no one foresaw a crisis on such a scale two years ago, and resources and goodwill are dwindling. Hamouda, whose brother and sister-in-law were killed in the conflict, with her youngest niece Lucy Lyon

But Hamouda, at least, has a roof over her new family’s head. They are lucky compared with the occupants of Za’atari refugee camp, now Jordan’s fifth-largest city, where more than 50 babies are born each week. Violence is increasing among frustrated refugees, who number more than 100,000, in a camp designed for 60,000. It sits on an arid, rocky belt near the Jordan-Syria border. As one official with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees says: “There’s a reason why nobody lived here before.” One of the problems facing UN agencies is a lack of resources for those who need them most. They struggle to provide caravans for all the families, so many new arrivals are having to live in tents. Refugees have taken matters into own hands, dismantling kitchen and toilet blocks to create their own washing and cooking facilities. Another is that communal facilities do not suit Syrian societies used to privacy. For Syrian men, it is unacceptable for female family members to walk to a communal bathroom at night. Almas, 52, holding a tiny baby girl in her strong, calloused hands, says: “As a woman, the most difficult aspect of living in the camp is safety. I worry when I send my daughters out alone at dusk. Angry, restless people roam around. What might they do?”

Parents are nervous about their children going to school. Of the estimated 30,000 school-age children in the camp, only 10 per cent attend. These fears are justified: as a child-protection officer explains, the risk of prostitution, human trafficking and early marriage is high, as is the recruitment of young boys from the camp by the Free Syrian Army..”

Tahanee, 28, who is pregnant with her ninth child, and her family came with only the clothes they wore. One of her children has been in the same clothes for four weeks. She says: “I don’t send my daughter Mariam to school as the journey is too dangerous and I need her help at home.” As Mariam, 13, cooks the family lunch of chicken and noodles in one of the communal kitchens, Tahanee says she is sure that life in Syria would be better. “I feel like I’m suffocating here,” she adds. “If it wasn’t for my children, I’d have stayed in my country.” Indeed, many people leave the camp each day and risk returning to Syria. Zeinab has a caravan with a tent beside it to house her family. “The children won’t sleep in the tent as they’re scared of the bugs, the dark, and ‘Bashar’ who they think will come and kill them in their beds,” she says.

According to the UN protection team, there is a huge problem with bed-wetting among children, and psychological trauma from what they have escaped, and the way they must now live..”

In her apartment hotel in Amman, Hamouda says: “It’s like we’re temporary and lost. It feels as though the moments don’t count.” And as every meaningless moment passes, the influx continues.