Tag Archives: Syria

Children UNICEF

Children on the move through Europe dream of a ‘normal’ life

Mascut, 3, from Syria, plays with a ball at the UNICEF-supported child-friendly space. After waiting 6 hours in the sun to cross the border with his mother and sister, he recalls what it feels like to rest and play before embarking on the next stretch to Serbia.

Mascut, 3, from Syria, plays with a ball at the UNICEF-supported child-friendly space. After waiting 6 hours in the sun to cross the border with his mother and sister, he recalls what it feels like to rest and play before embarking on the next stretch to Serbia. (c)UNICEFMK/2015/TomislavGeorgiev

When I arrived on Saturday to the town of Gevgelija near the border with Greece, I witnessed people and children with utter desperation and fear in their eyes. Thousands of children and families on the move from conflict zones in the Middle East, Asia and parts of Africa had pushed through a police cordon where they had been waiting to enter the country. This resulted in a stampede as exhausted and frightened people raced towards the city centre.

Amidst the confusion, children were separated from their families and left to wander down the nearby railway tracks. My colleague and I, worried for their safety, set out to find these children so that we could bring them to a makeshift protection centre until they could be reunited with their parents and caregivers. It was a terrifying ordeal for them, but fortunately, all of the boys and girls were later able to re-join their families.

Yet for most of these children, this incident was just one more hardship in their long and perilous journeys in search of safety after having been displaced by conflict from their home countries. Some 2,000 – 3,000 people, usually in smaller groups of 50 – 100, are now crossing daily from Greece into the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia after making the dangerous trip by sea across the Aegean. Soon they will move on to Serbia and then to other countries in the European Union.

After travelling for days on end, the youngest children in particular often arrive dehydrated or running a fever because they have been sleeping out in the open. Children and adults come barefoot, their shoes having been destroyed after so much walking.

Some families are from Syria or Iraq, while others have travelled from Afghanistan. All just want to live in peace, free from the threat of violence, displacement and death.

Lamar, 4, has travelled with her mother for just over 2 months from Syria to the Gevgelija border crossing. They are heading to Germany to reunite with Lamar's father who managed to reach Germany 4 months ago. Her mother tells us their house was burned to the ground and that they have nothing left. The hope of reuniting their family and a better life gives them courage to keep moving.

Lamar, 4, has travelled with her mother for just over 2 months from Syria to the Gevgelija border crossing. They are heading to Germany to reunite with Lamar’s father who managed to reach Germany 4 months ago. Her mother tells us their house was burned to the ground and that they have nothing left. The hope of reuniting their family and a better life gives them courage to keep moving. (c)UNICEFMK/2015/TomislavGeorgiev

Most of the children I have spoken with do not want to talk about their experiences with war. They are more interested in sharing their hopes for the future which always seems to include going back to school. Just the other day, I watched as a group of children from several different countries played together by pretending they were in a classroom. Even though they did not all speak the same language, they organized themselves into ‘pretend’ teachers and students – sharing in the same pleasant daydream of just being a ‘normal kid’.

It’s been about five days since the chaotic scene at the border and the services available for people crossing over have improved. There is a new Migrant Reception Centre about 500 metres from the Greek border and we are working with our partners to ensure that children and families arriving here are provided with essential services to help sustain them for their onward journey. A second tent at the centre is now being used as a safe space place for women and children to access support services.

Yet far more must be done to meet the growing humanitarian needs here. There is not enough shelter to accommodate the number of people passing through and many are forced to sit outside for hours in the scorching sun. More sanitation facilities are needed and there is no running water – I’ve seen parents washing their children with bottled water.

We’re here to help though and day by day, it will get better. I hope that one day soon the children I have met here will get what they want most – a normal life where they will be able to sit in a real classroom instead of an imaginary one.

Aleksandar Lazovski is a UNICEF Social Protection Specialist


Syrian women risk their lives to protect children from polio

More than 200 Syrian women risk their lives every day to save the lives of children by teaching fellow mothers about the importance of polio vaccinations in the most hard-to-reach areas, including in Dar’a in the far south of Syria, and Aleppo in the northern part of the war-torn country. UNICEF works with local partners to train these women on holding educational sessions and delivering key messages to parents of the young children.

The fight against polio in Syria is one that goes beyond administering vaccinations – it also requires changing misconceptions, especially in the most inaccessible areas.

“Being a parent myself, makes me want to protect all the children of the world,” said Suzan, a mother of three and a volunteer in Dar’a. “I learned about the importance of vaccinations from a health worker, so I vaccinated my children. But what if other mothers did not? Why should the children suffer?” she asked, explaining her drive to help out.

A woman volunteer takes the stand at a mosque in Aleppo to teach gathered women on the importance of Polio vaccinations and their safety. ©UNICEF Syria/2015

A woman volunteer takes the stand at a mosque in Aleppo to teach gathered women on the importance of polio vaccinations and their safety. ©UNICEF Syria/2015

Suzan took advantage of any opportunity to reach out to mothers and give them critical information on protection from polio. While most of her work entailed holding informative sessions in shelters for the internally displaced people, she took innovative steps to spread her knowledge.

“During major water cuts, I’d approach women gathering to fill their cans with water and talk to them about vaccination and hygiene,” she said. “I can tell how responsive they were because they asked questions and interacted with me, especially young mothers.”

Working in hard to reach areas, the mission of these unsung heroes is dotted with challenges. According to the women, a deteriorating security situation, increased restrictions on the movement of women without a male companion and resistance against vaccinations in some parts of the country are among the obstacles they face on a daily basis.

“The violence in the area is making people hesitant to take their children to medical centres to get vaccinated,” said Jinan, a volunteer in Aleppo. Jinan noted another obstacle faced by the volunteers; the misperceptions of parents over the safety of the vaccinations.

“Parents were too scared to get their children vaccinated due to rumours,” she explained. “We clarified over and over again the credibility of the source and the importance of the polio vaccine until we convinced them.”

Despite challenges, these courageous and dedicated women are reaching out to as many mothers as possible – and getting them to vaccinate their children as a result.

A volunteer with UNICEF holds in-house sessions with mothers in Aleppo and distributes informative flyers on protection from polio. ©UNICEF Syria/2015

A volunteer with UNICEF holds in-house sessions with mothers in Aleppo and distributes informative flyers on protection from polio. ©UNICEF Syria/2015

“The most exciting thing is sharing your knowledge, then watching the mothers take actions based on it,” said Mariam, another community influencer in Aleppo. “One woman went and vaccinated her three children immediately after the information session”.

“Since the outbreak of polio in Syria in late 2013 that resulted in 36 recorded cases in the country, 15 massive vaccination campaigns supported by UNICEF have been rolled out combined with raising public awareness at the community level,” explained Hanaa Singer, UNICEF representative in Syria.

The campaigns reached more than 2.9 million children under the age of five across the country. Many were vaccinated several times. “We were able to reach some children living under siege or in areas hard-to-reach. However, we estimate that some 80,000 children continue to miss out on the life-saving vaccination,” warned Singer.

“Mothers listen and relate better to other mothers,” said Dr. Nidal Abou Rshaid, UNICEF immunization officer. “The volunteers’ role is extremely important because they are more capable of delivering the information.”

Yasmine Saker is a Communication and Reporting Consultant working with UNICEF Syria.

Safa (14) is a Syrian refugee who fled violence two years ago and now lives in Kawergosk camp in northern Iraq.

Syria: hundreds of thousands of children missing out on education

I can still hear my children’s worried voices from the backseat. ‘Mom, do you think they will be nice? What if I won’t make any friends?’

It was the fall of 2001, my daughter was four, my son was six. We had just moved to Syria and were driving to their first day of school and pre-school outside of Damascus, full of the same nervous anticipation that millions of other children and parents feel every year on the first day of class.

My children wait for the school bus in Syria, many years ago.

My children wait for the school bus in Syria, several years ago. Photograph: author’s own

Over the next several years, that road was travelled so frequently that we knew every bump and tricky turn, they in their colourful school bus with their Syrian friends, teacher and a set of fluffy dice festively dangling in the window. I would join the other proud parents for the steady stream of school plays, sports days and end of year celebrations.

All of those memories came flooding back as I travelled that very same road to Damascus last week.The short drive from the Lebanese border to the country’s capital passed the familiar homes and housing blocks nestled in the same, sand-swept hilly terrain with patches of lush gardens, but in a distinctly different Syria for the country’s children than those days when school buses clogged city streets and ferried children to classrooms and seemingly bright futures.

Today, neighbourhoods and whole cities lie in ruin, some two million children inside Syria are out of school, while another estimated 700,000 children outside of the country are without education. Thousands of schools have been damaged, destroyed or are housing displaced families, and four million people, half of them children, have fled the horror of war, streaming into neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and Iraq.

All that promise for Syria’s youngest – the vast majority of whom were in school before the conflict – have given way to millions of children and adolescents being at risk of becoming a lost generation. It is the children and youth who pay the highest price for the world’s inability to put an end to a conflict that is not of their making.

Safa (14) is a Syrian refugee who fled violence two years ago and now lives in Kawergosk camp in northern Iraq.

Safa (14) is a Syrian refugee who fled violence two years ago and now lives in Kawergosk camp in northern Iraq. © UNICEF/MENA2015-00002/Hazou

Perhaps no one is shouldering the burden more than those children and families who were on the margin when the crisis was sparked some five years ago and has flared into one of the biggest humanitarian disasters in recent memory. They are often the most vulnerable, the most neglected, and the most at risk of abuse and exploitation.

The need to invest in the education of Syria’s children and youth in many ways has never been more urgent than now. School can provide a sense of normalcy in a situation far from it. It builds vital skills that children and youth need to help make a living and to one day reassemble shattered lives and communities. History has shown that no good comes out of lack of opportunity, destitute, anger and despair.

UNICEF, governments and partners are scaling up efforts and innovative ways to ensure that learning and care are provided to help stem the tide of destruction. Inside Syria, over 200 UNICEF staff are working with partners around the clock to help assist Syria’s children – not only with immediate humanitarian needs of water, nutrition and shelter, but also education. But much more is required in funding as needs are outpacing resources.

Investing in education is one of the best investments, not only for Syria’s children, but also for our collective future. It is the right thing to do, logically and morally.

Let’s never forget that the children sitting on our backseat or on the school bus one day could be the same children wrapped up in an impossible situation the next. We owe it to them and to their children to speak up and demand the same level of care and support we would want if it was our son, daughter, niece, nephew or our younger selves who were on the cusp of joining a lost generation.

Malene Kamp Jensen is a Communication Specialist based at UNICEF NYHQ.

yasmeen 2

Working to survive: Yasmeen’s story

Entering the Ghazieh collective shelter in south Lebanon, I was struck by the conditions: women, men, the elderly, children, babies were all packed into small rooms rented for US$300 a month. They live in horrendous conditions – with no access to cooking facilities or decent sanitation.

I was in one of the many locations across Lebanon where Syrian refugee families have moved into empty buildings, garages and other structures under construction to seek shelter. I was there to talk to Syrian children about their daily lives as refugees. A young girl caught my attention, but, as I approached her, she ran towards the neighbours’ room. A few minutes later she came back and stared at me, but she didn’t want to speak, so I started talking with some of the women present.

Half an hour later, the girl – whose name turned out to be Yasmeen* – came to me and told me that she wanted to tell me her story. “I came here from Syria three years ago with my little brother, with my uncle. My parents stayed behind to take care of my siblings. I am 14 years old now, and my brother is 12. Can you imagine? I was only 11 and he was 9 when life put us on the road of exile.”

Yasmeen grew angrier as she spoke: “I used to go to school in Syria and was among the best students. I left school and fled with my brother without knowing anything of this world. Do you know how a girl feels when her mother and father are not with her? Do you know how it feels that you have to work and manage alone when you are 12?”

yasmeen 3

Yasmeen’s hands show signs of the exhausting tasks she performs each day. Photo: still from video

As she talked, I thought about the thousands of unaccompanied minors who have fled Syria to different countries in the region. I thought of myself at her age. Yasmeen insisted I listen to her, as she told me about her daily life.

“I wake up at 4 a.m. and work for 10 hours for US$6. I come back and do domestic work, cook until sunset and then I go to sleep. Look at my hands from all the work; they are as rough as rocks, my back aches.

“I have been here for three years, but it feels like one long day. Every day is the same, nothing new happens. You have to work, you have to survive and you have to pay rent. Is this a life worth living?”

I asked her what she was afraid of, and she told me – of life, and of the world.

“At night, I think about my family and worry about them getting killed in Syria. I worry very much about them. I worry that anything might happen to me or to my brother. I feel like I am 20 years old. I can’t carry all these worries. I am still too young.”

Soha Boustani is Chief of Communication, UNICEF Lebanon.

*Name has been changed to protect identity.














On 13 March, displaced children participate in an art activity, in a UNICEF-supported shelter in Homs, capital of Homs Governorate. The activity is part of pyschosocial services to help children recover from trauma caused by the conflict. The UNICEF logo is partially visible on the mat where they are working.

In mid-March 2014, UNICEF UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake visited the Syrian Arab Republic to focus increased attention on the urgent needs of children and families as a result of the continuing humanitarian crisis. The ongoing conflict – now entering its fourth year – has affected over 5.5 million children. More than 6 million people have been internally displaced; one third of them are children. Syrians have also fled abroad, with more than 2.5 million people – half of who are children – registered or awaiting registration with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Mr. Lake visited Homs, capital of Homs Governorate, where he met with displaced children and families in shelters and conflict-affected neighbourhoods. Many residents have been evacuated in the city, parts of which were under siege for more than 600 days, and where ongoing shelling and a severe shortage of food and medical supplies have made living conditions untenable. UNICEF support in the Syrian Arab Republic includes the distribution of winter clothing and other supplies for children and their families; a polio vaccination campaign; the provision of primary health care services via both mobile medical teams and fixed centres; initiatives in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH); the distribution of school supplies; and psychosocial support for children and adolescents. UN agencies, including UNICEF, have appealed for US $6.5 billion to cover responses within the Syrian Arab Republic and host countries between January and December 2014. The appeal includes some US $2.3 billion for the 2014 Syrian Arab

The emotional impact of protracted conflict on children: rethinking our response

In 2014, displaced children participate in an art activity in a UNICEF-supported shelter in Homs, capital of Homs Governorate.

In 2014, displaced children participate in an art activity in a UNICEF-supported shelter in Homs, capital of Homs Governorate. © UNICEF/NYHQ2014-0291

Recently, after a planned trip to Syria was cancelled on the border due to visa problems, I returned to Beirut. Later, I sat down with a colleague from Syria, who came to meet me there to review our work in providing psychosocial support to children in Syria. Despite the long hours it took her to cross the border from Syria to Lebanon, and the late hour, Lina was keen to talk about her work and experiences.

She vividly recalled that on a recent visit to a rebel-controlled area inside Syria, she met a boy, around12-years-old, named Mohammad. He walked around wielding a gun, nonchalant and seemingly quite proud of himself. When Lina probed further, he was vocal about his participation in the armed group. Did he miss school? He didn’t. Only when they were deeper into the conversation, did he admit longing to return to school.

Being out of school is just one of the violations against children that Lina and many of our colleagues regularly hear about. Children share stories about separation from families, witnessing acts of violence or being detained – all of which have long-term consequences.

The second story Lina shared was about a child in one of the camps she visited when people were fleeing from Aleppo to Tartous sometime in November 2014. She met a little girl, disabled from gunshots on her leg, looking distraught, sick and distracted. The girl’s mother told Lina that it would be a waste of time for her daughter to attend the child-friendly spaces set up by UNICEF and its partners.

Apparently the mother saw it as just a space for play and recreation. Lina urged the partners on the ground to follow up with the girl’s mother. When Lina returned to the centre several months later, she found the little girl looking visibly cheerful and enjoying the recreational activities and psychological first aid provided by the centre. The mother, too, fully appreciated how her daughter had benefited.

During my time in Beirut, I visited a psychosocial support programme supported by UNICEF in the city. I saw scores of children from Syria engaged in various activities – language coaching, drama, theatre, music and when needed, referrals to specialized mental health care. This reassured me that these interventions do make a difference and bring relief and hope to children.

It was also a reminder of the hundreds of thousands of children unable to access these services or be part of the process of stabilization. Speaking to colleagues based in Syria, there is a sobering realization that interventions like child-friendly spaces alone cannot are not enough over the longer term.

A young Syrian girl sits at the window of a painted building.

Halime (16) and her family are from Hama in Syria, but now live in Saricam camp in Adana, Turkey. © UNICEF/MENA2015-00021/Yurtsever

We need to find ways to engage communities in self-help and peer support, and to overcome the challenges of access to psychosocial support for the communities most affected. When faith-based leaders, adolescents and youth are reached and engaged appropriately, they can become partners in providing support. We can also engage local community actors on some of the existing approaches such as Psychological First Aid (PFA), locally adapted, or the equivalent. Community messaging on psychosocial support can also be scaled up.

Studies in similar contexts have demonstrated that children and community members show remarkable resilience in coping with adversities. Enabling community members to restore social connections and networks, facilitating peer-to-peer support, helping caregivers cope with stress, and promoting community self-help in general, are critical for building on that resilience.

This is just one of many issues that will be discussed at a global symposium to be held in The Hague from 26 to 28 May 2015. UNICEF and partners with expertise in mental health and psychosocial support will come together and take stock of the devastation wrought by the numerous conflicts around the world on children’s emotional well-being.

What do we know about the impact of these conflicts on children in the long term? Can neuroscience tell us anything new? What are practitioners seeing on a day-to-day basis? Do we make a lasting difference? How can we measure meaningful differences in what we do? Are interventions like child-friendly spaces effective and are they sufficient?

Experts from both academia and practice will discuss many of these and similar questions. People from the field such as Lina will be there. Other experts such as Lynne Jones, a renowned expert in the field, will present findings from a long-term ethnographic study of children from two sides of the Bosnian War. So many others will share their rich experiences.

As I watched the smiling faces of the children from Syria attending UNICEF-supported activity centres in Beirut, I had the distinct feeling that, despite the terrible destruction of the conflict, everything we do in Syria and the neighbouring countries does make a difference. I also tell myself that there are other creative ways of working that will bring greater benefits to children in war-torn communities. Assembling a group of committed people both from the field and academia to think collectively is certainly a good place to start.

For more details on the upcoming symposium & information about livestreaming, please visit:
http://learningforpeace.unicef.org/media-center/growing-up-in-conflict-symposium/ OR http://mhpss.net/   

Saji Thomas is a child protection specialist, working on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support and Community-based child protection at UNICEF Headquarters, New York. He is the co-chair of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Reference Group on MHPSS. He has over 15 years of experience in the field of child protection and psychosocial support, both in emergencies and development context.

(c)UNICEF Iraq/2015/Jeffrey Bates

A volunteer’s commitment to helping Syrian mothers and babies

Janda, a 24-year-old volunteer health worker at Darashakran Camp for Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, starts her day early. She came to Darashakran when her family left Hassaka, Syria, two years ago and crossed into Iraq. At the time, she was enrolled in nursing school, but when her family fled the conflict she lost her chance to finish her studies.

Now in her new life Janda and a cadre of volunteers at the camp work with pregnant women and new mothers to provide prenatal and post-natal counseling and care. Mothers from Darashkran camp bring a new baby into this world about once every day, so Janda has to be alert and active. Early in the morning, with her supervisor and the other volunteers, Janda gathers her equipment and outlines the day’s work plan.

Refugee camps offer basic health services but lack the facilities and staff to provide the full range of health care that people need. To fill this gap, UNICEF and the Directorate of Health established a volunteer network that could help promote healthy behaviors and refer people who need more substantial health care to nearby hospitals.

Janda checks-up on a young baby in the camp. Neo-natal check-ups help keep babies healthy.

Janda conducts a check-up – neo-natal check-ups help keep babies healthy. (c) UNICEF Iraq/2015/Jeffrey Bates

When Janda found out about this programme she approached the camp management and volunteered her services. With her experience, Janda was selected to be part of the volunteer network for maternal-child care that UNICEF supports with funding from the Kuwait Government.

To help her and the other volunteers to prepare for their role, UNICEF and the Directorate of Health organized training on the basics of maternal and child health care provision in the camp setting. Janda has participated in three of these training courses. After her training and two years providing services to pregnant and new mothers, she knows her duties, the mothers, and their children well.

I visited Darashakran Camp earlier this month and spent a day with Janda. First we went to visit a family where a mother had given birth to a baby boy named Mamu. Mothers do not give birth at the camp, but up until delivery, and soon after the baby is born, they are back in their temporary homes. Janda’s duties as a health volunteer include neo-natal check-ups to ensure the infants are doing well after their return to the camp. Janda reflected, “One of the challenges in the camp is that we don’t have birthing facilities so we have to refer mothers to nearby hospitals for delivery.”

Low birth weight is a problem for newborns in the camp as their mothers don’t eat well, and the stress of displacement and living in camps reduces their ability to produce milk, so they have to rely on supplementary feeding.

“But we still encourage exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months because this is best for the baby,” Janda declared.

Pregnant mothers get advice on diet and what to expect when expecting.

Pregnant mothers get advice on diet and what to expect when expecting. (c) UNICEF Iraq/2015/Jeffrey Bates

Janda spoke with the mother, Noor, also from Syria who has already given birth to two daughters, about nutrition, including exclusive breastfeeding, how to monitor the baby’s growth, as well as immunization and other health behaviors to ensure the child’s well-being. Noor told us, “I am happy here, but I hope this is the last baby I have in a refugee camp, I want to go home.”

UNFPA supports families to space births with advice, antenatal care and family planning practices, as well as supporting gynecologists and midwives to help refugees take control of their reproductive health. Janda told us that the volunteers discuss safe birthing and make referrals to the local medical clinic for other family planning services. Noor loves her children and wants to make sure she can take care of them, and that requires not only their health, but hers as well.

After finishing her visit with Noor and her family, Janda walked across the camp to see a girl newly arrived in Darashakran along with about 3000 others who fled the fighting in Kobane, Syria, just four months ago. The camp already had about 10,000 residents, and now with the influx of these additional refugees, resources are more stretched.

The 20-year-old girl, Ahlam, left Kobane with her family and made her way to Darashakran via Turkey. This is her first pregnancy, and at three months, her face expresses the worry and stress she bears after her ordeal and the fears for her unborn child. Janda talks calmly to her, and gives her advice on her diet and tells her not to let the stress get to her.

Janda stands in the camp, witht tents behind her. At the end of a long day,  she is still smiling.

At the end of a long day, Janda is still smiling. (c) UNICEF Iraq/2015/Jeffrey Bates

From the tents of the newly arrived Kobane refugees, Janda took us to the Baby Hut where pregnant women and new mothers gather. The Baby Huts give women the necessary space to breastfeed in private, to receive counseling and to let their other children play while they tend to their infants. UNICEF, with funding from the Government of Japan, has established these Baby Huts in all of the nine formal refugee camps, and is establishing them in the 25 camps across Iraq for the over 2.6 million internally displaced people as well.

So far this year, over 100 mothers at Darashkran Camp have given birth, so Janda and her colleagues have their work cut out for them. But Janda loves her job. “I love babies and children, and I’m so happy to be able to help my people.”

Then in simple French she says, J’aime mon travail, with a broad smile stretching across her face. “I miss my friends and life in Syria, and I worry about them, but I hope things will get better soon and I can go back to finishing my nursing degree.”

Jeffrey Bates is the Chief of Communications for UNICEF Iraq

Za'atari refugee camp today - tarmac streets and a sense of normalcy. (c) UNICEF/Simon Ingram

الإبقاء على الأمل حيا من أجل أطفال سوريا

اشتُهر اسم مخيم الزعتري للاجئين في الأردن وغيره من البلاد، ولا زلت أذكر يوم افتتاحه في صيف عام 2012، عندما كان مجرد رقعة رملية مقفرة على مقربة من الحدود مع سوريا. وأذكر أن عاصفة رملية عاتية هبت يومها، وجعلت من المستحيل علينا تقريبا أن نرى الخيام القماشية الممتدة على مرمى البصر. ولا أنسى كم كان منظر مخيم الزعتري يومها يدعو للأسى.

وأذكر أني تحدثت يومها إلى بعض الأسر التي كانت قد عبرت الحدود لتوها، ولم يكن عددها وقتها قد تجاوز بضعة عشرات فقط. كان من الواضح أن كرامة القادمين الجدد عزيزة عليهم، وبدا عليهم الغضب جليا واضحا بسبب ظروفهم الجديدة – كما كانوا على قناعة تامة بأنهم سيرجعون إلى ديارهم في سوريا خلال بضعة أسابيع أو بضعة أشهر على أبعد تقدير.

ولكن بالطبع لم تتحقق آمال سكان مخيم الزعتري بالعودة، كما لم تتحقق آمال غيرهم من اللاجئين الذين وصل عددهم إلى 3 مليون لاجئ، تشتتوا في مختلف أنحاء المنطقة. اليوم، أصبح مخيم الزعتري رابع أكبر مدينة في الأردن، حيث يصل عدد سكانه إلى 80,000 شخص تقريبا.

Za'atari refugee camp today - tarmac streets and a sense of normalcy. (c) UNICEF/Simon Ingram

مخيم الزعتري للاجئين اليوم – طرق مرصوفة ووتيرة حياة طبيعية UNICEF/Simon Ingram©

استبدلت معظم الخيام بكرافانات توفر حماية أفضل من حر الصيف، ومطر الشتاء وبرده القارس. وأصبحت تجد في المخيم سوقا مزدحما وشوارع معبدة، ويمكنك تناول وجبة كباب مقبولة في مطاعمه، كما يمكنك أن تحلق شعرك، حتى أن أحدهم أخبرني أن هناك دكانا للحيوانات الأليفة في المخيم.

ولكن الأهم هو التغير الذي طرأ على نظرة سكان الزعتري لواقعهم. فاليوم، لا تسمع سوى القليل جدا منهم يتحدث عن العودة، وأصبحت تشعر بدلا من ذلك بوجود إقرار بحتمية تقبل واقع الغربة القسرية، وضرورة الاستمرار في الحياة بأفضل شكل ممكن.

يعيش محمد وزوجته فردانل، وأطفالهما الأربعة في مخيم الزعتري منذ أكثر من سنتين. يعمل محمد بدوام جزئي في محل يقدم البقلاوة العربية والحلويات الأخرى التي اشتهرت بها سوريا، ولكن مصدر فخره واعتزازه الحقيقي هو ابنته ينال، ذات الاثنتي عشر عاما. فهي فتاة ذكية ذات ميول فنية، وظّفتها في رسم جداريات مبهجة، تظهر فيها الأشجار والفراشات، على جدران الكرافان الذي تعيش فيه الأسرة.

تمشيت مع محمد وينال في شوارع المخيم حتى وصلنا إلى مدرسة ينال. كانت المدرسة في الماضي مكانا يفرّغ فيه الأطفال الذين يعانون من مشاعر الصدمة والغضب عما بداخلهم، ولكن جو المدرسة الآن بات أكثر انتظاما، وأصبحت هموم الأطفال هي هموم الطلاب الاعتيادية المتعلقة بالواجبات المنزلية والامتحانات.

أخبرتني المعلمة أن التغيير أثر على الطلاب الأكبر سنا بشكل خاص. ففي البداية لم يجد المراهقون فائدة ترجى من حضور الحصص وتقديم الامتحانات بناء على المنهاج الأردني، الذي لن يُعترف به في سوريا، ولكن الكثير منهم انتظم في الحصص الآن.

Yenal shows off some of her artwork. (c) UNICEF/Simon Ingram

ينال تعرض أعمالها. UNICEF/Simon Ingram©

بعد أربع سنوات من اندلاع الصراع في سوريا، ومع غياب أي حل في الأفق، قد يكون من الخطر أن نُغرِق في تفسير هذه التغيرات البسيطة. ولكن فيما تستمر عجلة الحرب الطاحنة في الدوران بلا رحمة، يجب علينا أن نبقي على الأمل بين الأطفال السوريين بأن الاقتتال سيتوقف يوما ما، وأنهم سيتمكنون من لعب دور حقيقي في إعادة بناء مجتمع جديد، ومجتمع أفضل لأنفسهم ولمواطنيهم.

أخبرتني ينال أنها كانت مقتنعة لدى وصولها إلى الأردن أن مستقبلها قد ضاع، ولكنها الآن وبعد أن التحقت بالمدرسة وانتظمت في مركز للنشاطات تدعمه اليونيسف، تغيرت نظرتها.

حيث تقول: “أصبح بإمكاني الآن أن أحلم مجددا بأن أصبح مهندسة معمارية في يوم من الأيام”.

سايمون إنغرام، المدير الإقليمي لقسم الإعلام في مكتب اليونيسف في منطقة الشرق الأوسط وشمال إفريقيا

(c)UNICEF/Juliette Touma

Syria: reflections on a visit to Homs

The highway from Beirut to Damascus is lined with brightly-coloured billboards, depicting some of the landmarks of this historic and beautiful country. There’s one from the souks in the Old City of Aleppo, another from a courtyard in Damascus and a third showing the imposing Crak des Chevaliers fortress outside Homs, built by the Crusaders. Everything looks ready for hordes of eager tourists.

There is another billboard that proclaims “Together we will rebuild it”, the only reference to the four years of brutal conflict that Syria has been through, and the enormous task of reconstruction that lies ahead. According to the UN, it will take about 40 years to bring Syria to what it was before the conflict started in March 2011.

We make it to Damascus and I go looking for my friends, people I have not seen for almost two years. When I was in Syria in July 2013, I remember going for whole nights not being able to sleep. I would wake up to the sound of shellfire, shooting, artillery and the occasional airplanes overhead.

The following day I join a mission to Homs, about 160 kilometres north of Damascus. Homs was one of the first places to witness civilian casualties at the start of the war. Many people lost their homes when they were forced to flee. Many more were trapped in the Old City during what the UN declared to be the longest siege since Sarajevo during the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

(c)UNICEF/Juliette Touma

(c)UNICEF/Juliette Touma

The Old City is a short drive from the main town, but the difference is stark. We go into what reminds me of photos from my 5th-grade history classes of Dresden after World War Two. Not one building is standing. Many are crumpled ruins. Others are riddled with bullets. Garbage and debris fill the streets and the city is a virtual ghost town.

My work for UNICEF meant I followed the course of the Homs siege closely. For almost two years, more than 1,100 children were trapped in the Old City with very little food and drink. For months on end, UNICEF was prevented from delivering even essential supplies like hygiene and medical kits for children. When a UN team, carrying humanitarian assistance, finally made it into the Old City, the convoy was attacked. It was a miracle that the team survived.

Mohammed – a UN colleague accompanying me on my own visit to Homs — recalls how he and other members of the UN team that day had to take cover for hours in a bunker, not knowing if the building would be blown to pieces. As darkness fell, the tyres of their vehicle were shot out making it impossible to drive to safety.

Mohammed stops as we reach a church, the same one where, during the siege, a Dutch Jesuit priest, Father Frans, made passionate appeals on behalf of the people of Homs. On Youtube, he described hungry people looking through garbage bins to get food for their children. He ended his videotaped message with the words: “We love life”. Father Frans was shot dead in unexplained circumstances in April 2014.

(c)UNICEF/Juliette Touma

(c)UNICEF/Juliette Touma

Next we go to Khaled Bin Al-Waleed Mosque, which dates back to the 11th century. One of its domes has fallen into the interior of the building, but somehow it remains intact.

In May last year, a deal was finally struck to lift the siege of Homs. But it has done little to breathe life back into the city. There’s hardly anyone on the streets. Amid the ruins of bombed houses, you see abandoned pieces of furniture, books, kitchen things, doors knocked down…everything looks sad, filled with dust, destruction and despair.

I kept wondering when, if and how this city will be rebuilt. And even if it is, will people be able to return to their old houses, will they have electricity and running water, will they find the belongings they left behind: their family albums, antique furniture, clothes, memories.

I also wondered if they will be able to be neighbours again. Will their hearts be able to forgive and forget?

UNICEF’s Juliette Touma has made two visits to Syria in recent months. Here she reflects on a visit to the ancient city of Homs.

For regular updates visit the #ChildrenofSyria website.

(c)UNICEF/Juliette Touma

سوريا: انطباعات من زيارتي لحمص

على الطريق السريع الواصل بين بيروت ودمشق ترى الكثير من اليافطات الملونة التي تُظهر بعض المعالم الهامة في هذه البلاد التاريخية الجميلة. فهناك صورة تمثل أسواق مدينة حلب القديمة، وصورة تمثل ساحة دمشقية، وثالثة تمثل حصن الفرسان الذي بناه الصليبيون على مشارف حمص. ويهيئ لك أن جميع هذه المعالم مستعدة لاستقبال جموع السياح المتشوقين لزيارتها.

وهناك يافطة أخرى تقول: “سوا نعمرها”، وهي الإشارة الوحيدة لسنوات الصراع الأربعة المريرة التي مرّت على سوريا، ولحجم العمل الضخم اللازم لإعادة إعمارها. فبحسب الأمم المتحدة ستحتاج سوريا لأربعين سنة لتعود لما كانت عليه قبل اندلاع الأزمة في آذار 2011.

وصلنا دمشق، وذهبت أبحث عن أصدقائي الذين لم أرهم منذ عامين تقريبا. عندما كنت في سوريا في شهر تموز من سنة 2013، أتذكر أنني لم أكن أقدر على النوم لليال بطولها، حيث كان يؤرقني صوت القذائف، والرصاص، والمدافع، وأحيانا صوت الطيارات التي تحلق فوقنا.

في اليوم التالي التحقت بالبعثة المتوجهة لحمص، والتي تبعد حوالي 160 كيلومترا عن دمشق. كانت حمص من أول المناطق التي سقط فيها ضحايا من المدنيين في بداية الحرب، كما خسر العديد من الأشخاص منازلهم عندما اضطروا إلى الهرب من المدينة، بينما علق آخرون في المدينة القديمة في حصار أعلنت الأمم المتحدة أنه الأطول منذ حصار سراييفو في البلقان في تسعينات القرن الماضي.

(c)يونيسف/جولييت توما

(c)يونيسف/جولييت توما

لا تبعد المدينة القديمة كثيرا عن المدينة الرئيسية بالسيارة، ولكن الفرق بينهما مذهل. حيث تذكرت عند وصولنا صور مدينة درسدن بعد الحرب العالمية الثانية والتي كانت موجودة في كتاب التاريخ للصف الخامس. فلم يتمكن ولا حتى مبنى واحد من الصمود، فمعظمها تحول إلى أكوام من الركام، وملأت ثقوب الرصاص جدران بعضها الآخر.

بحكم عملي في اليونيسف تابعت حصار حمص عن كثب، فعلى مدى عامين علق أكثر من 1,100 طفل في المدينة القديمة، دون أن تتاح لهم سوى كميات ضئيلة من الطعام والشراب. ولقد مُنعت اليونيسف لشهور من توصيل الإمدادات الأساسية مثل الحقائب الطبية وحقائب النظافة العامة اللازمة للأطفال. وعندما تمكن فريق الأمم المتحدة أخيرا من الدخول إلى المدينة القديمة محملا بالمساعدات الإنسانية تمت مهاجمة القافلة، وكانت نجاة أعضاء الفريق يومها معجزة بحد ذاتها.

أخبرني محمد – وهو أحد زملائي في الأمم المتحدة رافقني في زيارتي لحمص – كيف اضطر هو وأعضاء الفريق الآخرين للالتجاء إلى قبو دون أن يعرفوا إن كان المبنى الذي يقبعون تحته سينهار على رؤوسهم أم لا. وبعد أن حل الظلام تم إطلاق الرصاص على عجلات عرباتهم، بحيث أصبح من المستحيل عليهم قيادة العربات للوصول إلى بر الأمان.

توقف محمد عند مرورنا بكنيسة، هي ذاتها التي أطلق منها الأب فرانس، الراهب الهولندي اليسوعي، نداء يطلب فيه الغوث لأهل حمص خلال الحصار.  حيث وصف على اليوتيوب الناس الجياع وهم يبحثون في سلال القمامة عن طعام يسدون فيه رمق أطفالهم. وأنهى رسالته المسجّلة بقوله: “نحن نحب الحياة”. قٌتل الأب فرانس برصاصة أُطلقت عليه في ظروف غامضة في شهر نيسان من سنة 2014.

(c)يونيسف/جولييت توما

(c)يونيسف/جولييت توما

بعدها مررنا بجامع خالد بن الوليد، الذي بني في القرن الحادي عشر، ولكن أحد قبابه انهارت، وانهالت داخل المبني، ومع ذلك ظل الجامع صامدا بطريقة ما.

تم التوصل إلى اتفاق لرفع الحصار عن حمص في أيار من العام الماضي. ولكن لم يساعد هذا الاتفاق كثيرا في بث الحياة في المدينة. فتكاد لا ترى أحدا يمشي في الشارع، وتجد بين ركام المنازل المدمرة قطع أثاث وكتبا وأدوات المطبخ وأبوابا هجرها أصحابها … يدعو المنظر للأسى، حيث يطغى الغبار على المشهد، ويخيم الدمار والقنوط على المكان.

أجد نفسي أتساءل: هل بالإمكان إعادة إعمار هذه المدينة؟ وحتى لو كان هذا ممكنا، هل سيرجع السكان إلى بيوتهم القديمة؟ هل سيكون لديهم كهرباء وماء؟ هل سيجدون ممتلكاتهم التي خلفوها وراءهم: صورهم العائلية، وأثاثهم العتيق، وملابسهم وذكرياتهم؟ وأتساءل أيضا: هل سيكون بإمكانهم أن يكونوا جيرانا مرة أخرى، هل ستقدر قلوبهم على النسيان والغفران؟

زارت جولييت توما سوريا مرتين خلال الأشهر الأخيرة، وتسرد هنا الانطباعات التي خرجت بها من زيارة قامت بها لمدينة حمص التاريخية.

للمزيد من المعلومات، زر الموقع التالي: #أطفال_سوريا.