For Syria's young refugees, childhood is over

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The Independent Online

I was in Jordan with Save the Children last week – the second anniversary of the beginning of the conflict in Syria – having a look at the work it is doing with the ever increasing numbers of refugees fleeing over the border from Syria into the Hashemite Kingdom. If the influx continues at current levels, Save the Children estimates that there will be a million Syrian refugees in Jordan by the end of the year. Access is needed within Syria to allow humanitarian aid to reach displaced civilians so that, hopefully, the need for people to leave their country can be alleviated.

I was taken to Zaatari, a refugee camp about nine miles from the border that opened in July, and now has more than 110,000 refugees living in tents and prefabricated accommodation. Basic necessities such as food and water are obviously a priority, with more than 400,00 loaves of bread having to be sourced and handed out every morning. Save the Children organises this, but also strives to do as much as possible for the countless children in the camp. Having to leave your life behind and flee, often under gunfire, to another country forces a child to grow up a lot quicker than normal, and many are very traumatised by their experiences.

I met Ahmed, a 15-year-old from the town of Daraa, whose family crossed the border less than a month ago. It was only recently that both he and his younger siblings had stopped flinching in fear of being bombed every time they heard a plane fly overhead. His whole family of seven live in one tent. Life is especially hard for children, which is why Save the Children has set up "child friendly spaces" where kids can be … kids, and play and learn in relative security. There is also a makeshift football pitch where I met Ahmed and his brother playing in a tournament between various areas of the camp.

The following day, I was in the Jordanian capital of Amman, visiting refugees living in host communities. This is the hidden side of the refugee crisis. I expected all the refugees to be in camps, but two-thirds of them, more than 200,000, are dotted around the country living in basic accommodation and feeling very isolated in  these new circumstances. Save the Children is again busy organising child friendly spaces where kids can meet others in similar situations to themselves, and are able to talk about some of their experiences.

I met another family of nine from Daraa who were all living in one room, and didn't want to be filmed for fear of retribution against relatives still in Syria. Their 14-year-old daughter was clinically depressed and deeply affected by what she had been through. Two weeks after they fled in the middle of the night, they heard that their family home had been burnt to the ground by soldiers.

I came home to my own children of eight and 12, and couldn't even begin to explain to them what kids younger than them were going through right now. Funds are desperately needed, along with political action, to end this conflict as soon as possible.