By Najwa Mekki
RAMTHA, Jordan, 23 December 2011 – As I pull out my camera, Salwa looks at me and blurts out, “No, no pictures, please. Otherwise the police will slaughter us.” She is 5 years old.
Salwa is one of thousands of Syrians who have come to Jordan over the past few months, fleeing unrest and violence in their hometowns.
Nearly 2,000 Syrians have registered with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), though it is estimated that the actual number of people who have sought safety in Jordan is much higher. Most of the displaced are either staying with relatives or renting accommodations on their own.
Stories of fear, violence and retaliation
A large number have fled to Ramtha, a Jordanian border town 1.5 hour’s drive from Amman and 10 km from the Syrian town of Deraa, where the unrest began. Some displaced Syrians get by harvesting olives or working in restaurants, while others take shelter in a guarded facility here, receiving assistance from humanitarian agencies.
They tell stories of fear, violence and retaliation.
Um Ahmed arrived at the facility two weeks ago with her two daughters-in-law and two grandchildren. One of her daughters-in-law is nearly nine months pregnant but has just seen a doctor for the first time in four months.
One man spoke about his teenage son, who was killed in a detention facility in Syria.
A widowed mother recalls how unrest drove her and her two small children out of their home in the western city of Homs. With the help of a local charity, she and five other families are now living in a rented apartment. As she expresses her concern about family members who stayed behind, her 7-year-old son, Kamel, asks me if I can make him paper guns, instead of the paper boats I was trying to impress him with.
Helping children cope
Omar, 13, is one of about 26 children at the guarded facility in Ramtha. He arrived over three months ago with his extended family, and now spends his days playing with other children and listening to older relatives discuss the fatalities back home.
Omar and his playmates look forward to spending time in the facility’s child-friendly space, where UNICEF and the Noor Al Hussein Foundation provide informal education and psychosocial support.
“Children are visibly distressed by the events unfolding in Syria,” says Dominique Hyde, UNICEF Representative in Jordan. “UNICEF’s priority is to make sure that Salwa, Omar and other children like them recover their lost sense of safety and protection, and resume their education.”
*Names have been changed to protect interviewees’ identities