Finding a Temporary Home in Zaatari

By Stephanie Tremblay

A year ago, this area of Jordan close to the Syrian border was empty. In July 2012, people started to arrive, tired, carrying whatever they could bring with them. Every day for the past year, hundreds of Syrians have come with their entire families or alone in search of a place to feel safe again.

What is now known as Zaatari has grown into the world’s second largest refugee camp. It is a temporary home for approximately 120,000 Syrians.

Close to the entrance, Abdel*, Nour, their daughter and other members of their family are finalizing the registration process that will give them access to the services available in the camp. They say they spent most of the past 2 years going from village to village inside Syria, in search of a safe place for their family. Recently, they say an airstrike hit at the heart of their family.

As Abdel talks, Nour gets the family phone and starts playing a video. On the small screen, Abdel is clearly recognizable. He is standing next to a table on which lies the body of a teenage boy. This is his son, he says. He was too close to the site of the blast and died from head injuries.

Now that the family has crossed into Jordan, they are hoping to resume a life away from conflict, away from the violence.

Children out of school
A few steps away, a woman and her three children are also finishing the registration process. Her husband is still at the border, waiting for a bus that will take him to the camp, probably before the end of the day. They are from Salamiyah, a town close to Hama. She says that bombs started falling closer and closer to her home. The children were scared. They were scared and they left.

For a week, they tried to find a safe place inside Syria. When that didn’t work, they made the trek to Jordan.

She explains her oldest child hasn’t been to school since the beginning of the conflict. Last fall, her daughter was scheduled to begin elementary school. She was registered, but when the time came, there was no school to go to. It was closed.

Here at the camp, her priority is to get her children learning.

Close to 1.9 million Syrians have sought refuge in neighboring countries, including more than half a million in Jordan. About half of the refugees are children.

Leila Zerrougui in Jordan

Leila Zerrougui talks to children at Zaatari camp in Jordan. Copyrights: Stephanie Tremblay/ OSRSG-CAAC

Leila Zerrougui talks to children at Zaatari camp in Jordan. Copyrights: Stephanie Tremblay/ OSRSG-CAAC

When Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, visited Zaatari in July, she talked to several families whose children had been affected by the violence in Syria. Elsewhere in Jordan, she also met a teenager who had been recruited to fight alongside armed groups.

“Everything must be done to protect children from violence and to prevent their recruitment by armed groups,” said Ms. Zerrougui.

The Special Representative reports to the Security Council about six grave violations committed against children in situation of armed conflict: killing or maiming, recruitment and use of children by armed forces or armed groups, abduction, sexual violence, attacks on schools and hospitals and denial of humanitarian access.

These violations against children have all been documented in Syria. As a result, Government forces, associated militias as well as the Free Syrian Army are on the list of shame of the Secretary-General.

“This is the first step towards accountability,” said Ms. Zerrougui. “We also need to continue to call for a political solution. Otherwise, children will continue to suffer the consequences of this conflict.”

*All names have been changed to protect the identities of the people interviewed.

Stephanie Tremblay is in charge of communications in the office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.