The Syrian children of the Kilis refugee camp: ‘We tell them not to worry, it’s far away, but they get scared’

Teachers inside a Turkish refugee camp for Syrians displaced by the near three-year civil war are becoming increasingly concerned that images of bloodshed witnessed by children will have a lasting impact. Richard Hall reports from Kilis

Walking through the steel turnstiles at the entrance of the Kilis refugee camp on Turkey’s border with Syria, it is the children that you notice first.

Click here or on 'view gallery' to see more images

Dozens of young kids dart back and forth across the narrow gaps between grey containers that stretch into the distance. They kick balls against the tall, metallic perimeter fence and throw marbles on the kerbside while their parents watch. There are 7,000 Syrian children living in this camp of 15,000 people. They are the lucky ones, we are told. While many are still trapped inside Syria, the people here have escaped to the safety of a well-equipped and modern camp funded generously by the Turkish government.

But for the children old enough to remember why they fled, the damage may have already been done. Teachers and aid agencies working in the Kilis camp are concerned about the psychological effect of the war on Syria’s young – a generation that may forever be scarred.

“The war is imprinted on their minds,” says Hassan, an IT teacher in the camp. “They are always talking about the things they saw – the bombs and explosions. I am becoming more and more concerned about it. They remember everything.”

Three-year-old Aisha Nour from Azaz, Syria, reads outside the container in which she and her family live at the 'Container City' refugee camp at Oncupinar Three-year-old Aisha Nour from Azaz, Syria, reads outside the container in which she lives (Sam Tarling/The Independent) Many of the children are withdrawn and quiet, camp volunteers say. When they are encouraged to talk about what is troubling them, the stories they tell are shocking.

“One of the children, a young girl, was not interested in her work. She just sat there very quiet during class,” says Sara, a 24-year-old English teacher who lives and works in the camp. “When I asked her what was making her sad she said that her father was hit by a rocket and his arm was severed. She ran to him after it happened and watched him die. She told me that she wanted to go back and get revenge; to become a martyr.”

The camp is a hive of activity during the day. A market subsidised by the World Food Programme sits in the middle of the site.

There are three schools and even a playground for the children – a far cry from the muddy roadside available to the kids whose families fled to Lebanon. But the war is never far away.

Overlooking the sprawling camp is a large hill dotted with small trees. The imposing mound lies across the border in Syria. Sometimes at night the flash of gunfire streaks across the sky while loud booms echo in the distance.

“We tell them not to worry, that it is far away, but sometimes they still get scared,” Sara says.

A little way down the road in Kilis town, which camp residents are free to visit when they please, a few children can be seen searching through the rubbish at the side of the road, filling bags with whatever scraps they find, perhaps to sell for loose change. They are the minority in Kilis. Things are much worse for Syria’s children elsewhere.

Young Syrian refugees from Jisr al Shugour play at the 'Container City' refugee camp at Oncupinar, Turkey Young Syrian refugees from Jisr al Shugour play at the 'Container City' refugee camp (Sam Tarling/The Independent) More than one million kids have fled Syria and registered as refugees, according to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).

Around 294,000 of them came to Turkey, while others fled to neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, while  a further two million have been displaced inside the country.

Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp is home to 130,000 residents, 65 per cent of whom are under 18. More than 300 children living in the camp have been treated for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), according to the UN, which warns that many more may be suffering in silence.

In Kilis, the children are free to attend school up until the age of 16. Elsewhere, they are forced to earn money to support their families. UNICEF estimates one in every 10 Syrian refugee children in the region is working.

A report issued last month by UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, found that in both Jordan and Lebanon, children as young as seven years old are working long hours for little pay as labourers, on farms and street stands, sometimes in dangerous or exploitative conditions. The majority of working children are boys.

Seven year old Muhammad eats sweets outside a shop at the 'Container City' refugee camp at Oncupinar, Turkey Seven year old Muhammad eats sweets outside a shop at the 'Container City' refugee camp (Sam Tarling/The Independent) The same report documented the psychological distress suffered by children who had fled the war, some of whom had been separated from their parents.

“The pressures of displacement and dramatic changes in lifestyle lead many Syrian refugee children to feel isolated and insecure, both within and outside their homes. Children, particularly girls, are often kept at home for their safety. However, the stressful and uneasy environment in which many refugee families live can also trigger tension and violence in the home,” it said.

The children rarely share their fears with their parents, Sara says, much less with visiting journalists.

Fifteen-year-old Ibrahim arrived in Turkey at the beginning of the war, but he still remembers why his family left.

“We used to run from one side of the road to the other to avoid the bullets,” he says shyly. “There were rockets too.”

Asked if he would like to go home he says: “We miss it. But it will be a long time before it is better.”

Two-year-old Zakia plays in the 'Container City' refugee camp at Oncupinar Two-year-old Zakia plays in the 'Container City' refugee camp (Sam Tarling/The Independent)  

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power