Why Syria's refugee crisis is 'a children's emergency'

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Since the conflict started in Syria in 2011, over 1.6 million refugees have fled their homes into neighbouring countries – at least 495,000 have come to Jordan so far. World Vision staffer Kate Rose is on the ground in Jordan, and this is her account of what many refugees have been through, and what they still face.

It’s a hard thing to imagine, a war zone.

It’s hard to imagine a time and place so awful that leaving with nothing is better than staying with everything.

In Jordan, buses collect Syrians from the border after they’ve walked or driven or been dropped far away from their homes.

Their next stop is Za’atari refugee camp, a tent and caravan city in the middle of the desert.

The most recent figures put the population at roughly 116,000 people – 60,000 of them are children.

The man in charge, UNHCR Senior Field Co-ordinator Kilian Kleinschmidt, readily admits the camp lacks the resources it needs to educate the Syrian children residing there. Only 5000 – less than 10 percent of children in the camp – attend school.

“This is a children’s emergency,” Kleinschmidt says, warning that the world is risking a lost generation of children.

In Za’atari’s registration area, exhausted refugees huddle close together waiting for their turn to have the UN verify their identities and admit them to the camp.

A Syrian refugee holds his only possessions - bits of paper that will provide the essentials for survival. Photo: Kate Rose/World Vision

The process starts in large sheds, the first stop after their border pick-up, where they can eat and sleep before they start moving through the queue that weaves through another building.

Finally they end up on wooden benches between portable buildings, waiting their turn. Each section is separated from the others by heavy gates and security guards.

Everybody here has a reason why they left, had a moment when they knew they could not stay in their homes or their country.

For Antar, the moment came when his house was hit with an artillery shell. His four children were playing in the back yard, and his eldest son Mohammad, 12, was hit in the stomach by shrapnel. His 11-year-old daughter Ala’a was hit in the chest.

He was too scared to take them to a Syrian hospital in case they weren’t allowed to leave, so he found a field hospital run by an NGO instead. Mohammad was there for six days, Ala’a for three.

When Mohammad was released the whole family – Antar and his wife, Mohammad, Ala’a, and their brothers Taleb, 10, and Zakaria, 4 – set out walking towards Jordan.

They have been in Za’atari for almost three months, living in tents with just a few clothes and some bedding. Antar is desperate to exchange the tent for a caravan – the wind howls through Za’atari, regularly whipping up sandstorms – but the camp hasn’t received any in weeks. Only Ala’a is still in school. Mohammad wants to be a doctor, but without an education that dream is futile.

No one in Za’atari wants their children to be here, but when bombs are hitting children playing in their yards it is just the least bad place to be. 

How you can help

Your support for the Syrian Refugee Crisis Appeal will enable World Vision to help children and their families affected by this conflict. Donate today to help families gain access to food, blankets, warm clothing, fuel and personal hygiene items.

This article was originally published on 14 August 2013.

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