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One family's struggle, echoing across a region

UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on the visit of two senior UNICEF officers to the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan.


By Melanie Sharpe

Families fleeing the violence of the Syrian crisis are now scattered across the region, and the challenge of supporting them is ever greater as the conflict carries on.

IRBID, Jordan, 21 August 2013 – Every day is a struggle to survive for Noura and Muhammed and their six children, refugees of the continuing violence in the Syrian Arab Republic. None of their children have been attending school, and their 15-year-old son goes to work to help support the family.


© UNICEF Jordan/2013/Romboli
Children in a child friendly space in Irbid, Jordan, show their drawings to UNICEF Director of Communication Paloma Escudero.

UNICEF Director of Emergency Programs Ted Chaiban and Director of Communication Paloma Escudero visited the family today in the small apartment they share in Irbid, northern Jordan.

The family spoke about their business being destroyed and having to leave their homeland with nothing. Now, like thousands of other Syrian families across the region, they face an uncertain future.

Breaking point

After meeting with children and families in Irbid and in Za’atari refugee camp – the second largest refugee camp in the world – Mr. Chaiban appealed for the world’s attention.  

“More than 4 million Syrian children have been affected by this emergency. We must remember that each and every one of these children is an individual with a personal story of displacement, exposure to violence and horrific loss,” Mr. Chaiban said. “The global community cannot forget these children.”

The Syrian emergency has led to one of the largest refugee crises the world has witnessed in the last 20 years. According to Government statistics, Jordan alone is host to around 600,000 Syrian refugees; UNICEF estimates that half of them are children.

© UNICEF Jordan/2013/Romboli
UNICEF Director of Emergency Programs Ted Chaiban sits with children at a child friendly space in Irbid. "The global community cannot forget these children," he said.

With recent reports of intensified violence within the Syrian Arab Republic, the refugee crisis is only expected to get worse. A statement issued this week by the UN refugee agency said that some 30,000 Syrians had crossed into northern Iraq in the past week, and thousands more were waiting to enter, fleeing Syrian communities across a wide swathe of the country’s north.

Neighbouring countries are at the breaking point, and they can barely cope with the continued influx of refugees.  

Since the crisis began, UNICEF and partners have been redoubling their efforts to provide millions of children with clean water, sanitation, life-saving immunizations, education, psychosocial support and health services.

Safe space

In Irbid, Noura and Muhammed’s children now attend a new UNICEF Child and Family Protective Place, which provides a safe environment for Syrian children to socialize and play – a small but important measure towards regaining a bit of their childhood. 

UNICEF is working across the region to get children back to learning next month. In the Syrian Arab Republic, UNICEF estimates that one school building out of every five cannot be used because it has been damaged, destroyed or is being used to shelter families displaced by the violence. If children are not given an education, they lose their childhood – and the society risks losing an entire generation.

“One thing above all gave me hope here – and that is these children have not yet lost all hope themselves. They told me dreams of becoming doctors, engineers and teachers,” Ms. Escudero said after visiting one of the UNICEF-supported schools in the camp. “But it’s a reminder, too, that we have to keep doing everything we can to support them.”

The longer the conflict continues, the more difficult it will be to heal the deep wounds within Syrian society. Reaching a political and peaceful resolution to the conflict is more critical than ever.



UNICEF Photography: Refugees & displaced

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