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At a glance: Syrian Arab Republic

Amidst talk of relocation, internally displaced children express themselves through recreational activities

© UNICEF Syrian Arab Republic/2012/Rashidi
Adolescents take part in a UNICEF-supported outdoor art class at a school housing internally displaced persons in Damascus. It is estimated that there are more than 150,000 internally displaced persons in Damascus and rural Damascus, half of whom are estimated to be under 18.

By Razan Rashidi

DAMASCUS, Syrian Arab Republic, 5 September 2012 - “Where we will be taken?” “Where are they going to put us?” “What will happen to us?”

Such are the concerns of internally displaced persons housed in schools in the Syrian Arab Republic. As the school year approaches, rumours have spread that the families will be moved. 

One school building, in Afif, Damascus, hosts 350 people, among whom are 200 children. And people continue to arrive.

Relocation of displaced families, schooling for children

The Syrian Cabinet recently decided to form a ministerial committee to follow up on displaced families on the ground, with the overarching aim of relocation. Locations include the families’ former homes, when possible. Relocation services will be provided. 

“The pace of arrivals from the neighbourhoods caught in the fire like Qadam, Daraya, Zamalka and Jobar has intensified for the last week,” said a volunteer in a school housing internally displaced persons in Damascus. “It is important that we know what the options are,” he added.

“UNICEF is actively engaged with various partners to ascertain the plans that will guarantee suitable shelters for IDPs and resumption of schooling for our children,” said UNICEF Representative in the Syrian Arab Republic Youssouf Abdel Jelil. “All parties in Syria owe it to the children of Syria to go back to schools that provide safe havens for peace and learning,” he added.

© UNICEF Syrian Arab Republic/2012/Rashidi
Eyad, 9, and his family left their home more than month ago and took refuge in a school in Damascus. He attends the recreational activity sessions. Volunteers describe the "enormous" impact such creative outlets have on these children's lives.

Psychosocial first aid

Last week, UNICEF assisted the local NGO Syrian Society for Social Development in facilitating training on psychosocial first aid for 70 volunteers. The training was followed by provision of psychosocial first aid and recreation activities for children, both internally displaced and of the host communities of the Mazzeh, Jaramana and Tabbaleh areas of Damascus and rural Damascus.

Recreational activities for children

UNICEF is also supporting national partners and local NGOs to implement recreational activities for children and adolescents in schools such as the one in Afif.

Children enjoy a variety of activities, including art classes, music, theatre, interactive plays and storytelling. “We come here every day and play with children and adolescents. They run when they see the trainers entering the school, telling each other that the teachers arrived,” said a youth worker from one of the national partners. 

“The impact on the lives of children and adolescents is enormous,” said another youth worker, who runs creative writing sessions supported by UNICEF and national partners. “You can see here, in the school, children that are homesick and parents that are worried and nervous about uncertain future. I noticed amazing talent and creativity. Through arts, adolescents are able to express themselves and relieve the anxiety and temper.”

© UNICEF Syrian Arab Republic/2012/Rashidi
Rasha, 11, works on her origami artwork as part of the recreational activity sessions held in schools housing internally displaced persons. She folds an envelope: “I will put letters to send to my friends.”

Amazing talent and creativity

Luna, 14, has just arrived in Afif with her family of eight. This morning, they left their home in Zamalka because of, as she phrases it, “demonstrations and shelling”. 

She has joined an art class. She draws a picture of the Barada River. “We have done few picnics over the river, but I still remember them all,” she smiles.

Rasha, 11, is in the origami class, where children are learning the Japanese art of folding paper. She holds up an envelope she has folded in the class. “I will put letters to send to my friends Iman and Nada,” she says. “I miss them a lot and I don’t know where they live now, maybe in a school like this or maybe at a relative’s home. Am not sure,” she adds, sadly.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that there are more than a million internally displaced persons across the Syrian Arab Republic, more than 150,000 of whom are in Damascus and rural Damascus. It is estimated that half of these people are children under 18.

The deterioration of security in the country, and in the Damascus area, in particular, is expected to increase the number of internally displaced persons in Damascus and rural Damascus. For now, the children find ways to express themselves in increasingly uncertain times.



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