|A child walks outside her family’s tent at the Zaatari Refugee Camp near Mafraq on Saturday. The camp’s 5,000 children face many difficulties in adjusting to life as refugees (Photo by Muath Freij)|
MAFRAQ — "I used to play football with my friends; they were like my brothers. Now, I have no idea where they are or if they are even alive," 13-year-old Mohammad Ameen told The Jordan Times outside his tent at the Zaatari Refugee Camp.
At the camp, where UNICEF says around 5,000 Syrian children aged between six and 18 are currently living, young people said that the violence in their country had driven them far from their homes, friends and any sense of normalcy.
Mohammad Majid, who came to Zaatari from Daraa 25 days ago, said he was having trouble making new friends.
"I only have one new friend at the camp. I do not know anyone else because most children stay in their families' tents. Also, most people at the camp are people older than me," the 12-year-old told The Jordan Times.
Sweating in the desert heat, Majid said that summer used to be his favourite season. Not anymore.
"I used to go out to ride my bicycle when I finished school, and hang out with my friends at night. Now, these are only memories," he said.
With a lack of entertainment options at the Zaatari camp and harsh weather keeping them indoors for much of the day, many refugee children suffer from boredom, on top of the trauma and the disorientation of displacement.
"We hardly play football. There is a play area in the camp, but my parents do not let me go there because it is far from our tent and people older than me play there as well," Zakaria Hoshan said.
"My parents do not allow me to go out because they are scared that the heat will affect our health," his 10-year-old cousin said.
In an effort to ease the hardship of refugee life for the camp’s young residents, international organisations have created spaces for children to play, UNICEF communication specialist Samir Badran said.
"There are four safe centres supported by the UNICEF at Zaatari camp designed for children to play and learn,” Badran said, adding that each of these centres includes three large tents that can accommodate up to 50 children at a time and host recreational programmes supported by UNICEF and implemented by Save the Children.
"It gives them a chance to meet new friends as well," he pointed out.
Many of the children at the Zaatari camp have not been to school since even before they fled their countries.
Mustafa Hariri said that he missed his school days, which ended with the start of the conflict in Syria early last year.
"When the violence began, no one dared to go to school," the seven-year-old said.
His mother, who refused to reveal her name, said that with Syrian regime forces firing on demonstrators and doing battle with armed rebels, she had stopped sending her son to school out of fear that he would be caught in the crossfire.
"My husband and I were scared that we would lose our son," she said. "I hope that my child will have the chance to continue his studies in the camp."...READ MORE