“I recently returned from visiting Zaa’tri refugee camp in Jordan seeing, for the first time, UNHCR’s frontline emergency work. I was immensely impressed by the scale of their operation and the amazing dedication and commitment of the staff and the organization in supporting and protecting families whose lives have been devastated by the ongoing conflict in Syria. I was also deeply humbled and greatly moved by the families I spent time with, who welcomed me in to the shelters they now call home and who shared their stories with me - stories of grief and loss and trauma but ultimately of survival and the strength and love of family bonds. I am honored to have the opportunity to try and help shine a light on the Syrian refugee crisis and I hope that you will join with me in supporting the vital work of UNHCR and discovering more about the issues faced by refugee families across the world”.
I’d like to introduce you to Ayman. Ayman has 2 sons and 2 daughters under the age of 7. He and his family made the difficult decision to leave Syria when their village came under attack, his brother lost a leg in the bombardment and he feared for the lives of his children. Now they are living in Zaa’tri, the second largest refugee camp in the world, with more than 85,000 other refugees. His children are attending school in the camp and Ayman volunteers as a community nurse, doing daily rounds in the camp, referring fellow refugees to the UNHCR funded clinic that provides primary healthcare 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, including psychosocial support for the many women, men and children suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of what they have seen and experienced inside Syria. Ayman is proud to serve his neighbors and community but he told me that he is waiting for the moment when he and his family can return home to Syria and kiss the ground of the country he was born in. He told me that he pictures that moment right before he goes to sleep but sometimes he doesn’t have the strength to bear the image “and the tears come”.
I met Abu Ihab, his wife, daughter and grandchildren in the arrivals centre in Zaa’tri, just hours after they had made their journey across the border from Syria to Jordan to find refuge. Their town had been under siege for 6 months and they, like many families I spoke with, had moved from place to place several times to try and stay safe. He told me stories of children being killed by snipers on the way to school so he stopped sending his grandchildren. Then his son was killed and the family ran out of money to support the children and cover their basic needs. They left Syria with nothing more than some warm clothes for the children. I stayed with them as they received blankets, sleeping mats, a tent, heater (it was bitterly cold), hygiene kits, kitchen sets and the other vital basics that UNHCR provides to families when they arrive in the refugee camp. Abu Ihab told me that he was grateful to everyone they’d met since arriving in Jordan for welcoming them with a smile and for being so nice and generous. These starter packs really are just the basics but when you have lost everything they make such a dramatic difference.
Hassan is 11 years old and I spent many hours with his beautiful family – talking, playing and cooking together. Hassan has 3 siblings and 4 cousins who went to live with Hassan’s family after being orphaned when a bomb killed their parents. One day Hassan and 2 of the other children were hit by shrapnel when a bomb exploded on their house. That’s when the family decided they had to leave Syria. They couldn’t get the right medical attention inside Syria and they wanted to get the children to safety. Their journey across the border, walking for many hours in the dark, sounded terrifying. Noone was allowed to utter a sound as it would put the whole family in danger, but it was very difficult: Hassan was in great pain, there were small children and Hassan’s elderly grandmother, and it was muddy due to the rain and people were falling over and getting trapped in the mud. The family has been in Zaa’tari for one year now and they have moved from a tent into a ‘caravan’ provided by UNHCR which is a pre-fab unit that gives better protection against the harsh desert environment. By the end of February UNHCR is hoping to have all families housed in caravans rather than tents.