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At a glance: Syrian Arab Republic

'Capoeira therapy' brings joy to Iraqi children at a refugee camp in Syria

© UNICEF Syria/2008/Travagnin
Refugee children play tug of war at Al-Tanf camp in Syria in 2008. Al-Tanf housed some 850 Palestinian refugees who had fled strife in Iraq.

By Rob Sixsmith

AL-TANF REFUGEE CAMP, Syria, 12 March 2010 – The closure in February of the Al-Tanf refugee camp on the Syrian-Iraqi border ends one of the most painful chapters in the post-war story of Iraq’s refugee community.

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Commonly referred to as a no-man’s land, Al-Tanf has, since 2006, housed some 850 Palestinian refugees who had fled sectarian strife in Iraq. Many of them were children.

Residents welcome relief efforts
“As a place for children, it was totally barren, just stones,” said UNICEF Representative in Syria Sherazade Boualia.

The thin stretch of barren land, lodged on the border between Syria and Iraq, fulfilled many of the traditional stereotypes of a refugee camp. Sand battered tents stretched out in parallel lines, and hygiene and water problems were critical.

Gradually, residents began to welcome the relief efforts of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, to whom overall responsibility for the camp fell, along with UNICEF and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA.

© UNICEF video
Children from the now closed Al-Tanf camp on the Syria-Iraq border learn Capoeira, a blend of dance, music and self-defense.

'Capoeira is a joyful thing'
With food security paramount, the educational, physiological and psycho-social needs of the camp's children were often secondary.

UNICEF and its partner CapoeirArab, a sports association, stepped into the void, teaching Capoeira, a Brazilian-based blend of dance, music and self-defense. After 20 weekly sessions, families in the camp began to see a marked improvement in their children’s mood.

“Capoeira is a joyful thing and it is fun,” said Hananan, a mother from Al-Tanf. “It really changed the mentality of the children and even us.”

Physical and psychological health
The introduction of Capoeira in the camp promoted physical activity and contributed to psychological stabilization.

“Capoeira was central to the dynamic of the camp and was important to the morale of the people there,” said Ms. Boualia. “Though Al-Tanf has now closed, other problems remain, and Capoeira will likely play a part in alleviating the boredom of refugee children in the future.”




February 2010: UNICEF's Rob Sixsmith reports on an unusual form of therapy for refugee children living on the Syria-Iraq border.
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