In Jordan, Syrian children are on the road to recovery after fleeing ongoing violence in their country
By Wendy Bruere
RAMTHA, Jordan, 19 June 2012 – Reem* and her six children fled their home in southern Syria in February after her husband Abood* was abducted by armed men. The children were between ages 5 and 18.
“The children were scared and insecure when we first came to Jordan,” Reem said. “When they saw cars [like the one that took their father], they would start screaming.”
But in the months since they arrived in northern Jordan, living in the Bashabshe transit yacility, Reem has noticed things starting to improve. The children have been attending psychosocial activities and remedial education classes run by UNICEF partner Noor al-Hussein Foundation (NHF). The activities include group counselling, educational games, crafts and drawing.
Tens of thousands of Syrian children and their families have fled the ongoing violence in Syria, spilling into the neighbouring countries of Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are almost 78,000 registered refugees in these countries, with more than 24,000 in Jordan alone.
Children affected by violence
In Ramtha, a teacher with NHF, Hana’a Al-Zoubi, said she can detect evidence of what the refugee children had experienced in Syria. “Even the youngest can identify different weapons … There is a 3-year-old here, and every time he sees [someone he thinks could be armed] he cries and says, ‘They’re going to kill us! They’re going to beat us!’”
“Other children here have told stories about their homes being burnt down and close family members being killed,” Zoubi said.
But over time, the children stop looking scared, and they start to laugh and smile again, Zoubi said. “There’s a big change.”
Like other children in the facility, Reem and Abood’s children are now able to continue their educations, after spending months out of school in Syria, where violence on the streets kept them confined to their home. Amjad*, 8, said he has made friends at the public school he attends in Ramtha and that he enjoys learning and playing soccer there.
“Because they attended remedial education classes, it was easier for them in school here,” Reem said. “They enjoy going to school in Jordan.” NHF runs a bus to a local school for children at the transit facility.
“The children are doing much better here, they are sleeping and they feel secure. In Syria there was often the sound of bombs,” Reem said.
UNICEF Representative in Jordan Dominique Hyde said children are very vulnerable to the psychological distress caused by violence and insecurity, but “through learning and playing in a supportive environment, children begin to regain a sense normalcy and start to recover.”
While one of the children – now 19 – has since left, Reem said the rest of her family feels settled in Jordan. “I expected the situation to be much worse, but we have shelter here and the children can go to school, so things are much better,” she said.
The Government-run Bashabshe transit facility provides temporary shelter for displaced Syrians entering the country without legal papers. It is equipped to accommodate some 500 people at a time. Other transit facilities have opened recently in Ramtha to host the influx of Syrians fleeing to Jordan.
Zoubi said when NHF began psychosocial and remedial education activities in Ramtha, in December of last year, many children were withdrawn and seemed reluctant to take part. NHF staff went from family to family to explain the activities and invite children to attend.
With gentle encouragement – and a focus on activities that require group work and sharing – children gradually begin to participate and make friends. Now, around 100 children attend every day. NHF staff members continue to visit newly arrived families to let them know about available activities and to encourage children to attend.
When families leave the facility, they are still able to access assistance through NHF and other service providers, if needed. With UNICEF support, NHF also runs psychosocial and remedial education activities for displaced Syrian children in the Cyber City transit facility in Ramtha.
*Names have been changes to protect the interviewees.
** Photo: Ivan Bartolini for UNHCR/2012