17 December 2013 by

Why I Wrote This Story… Syria's Lost Children: “We have no future. We have nothing.”

For Grazia’s Christmas campaign we teamed up with Save the Children to help raise money for their Syrian Emergency Fund. Grazia’s Zoe Beaty flew to Jordan to report - here, she explains why she wrote this story…

Za'atari Camp 

One month ago, I visited Jordan. I went as a reporter to speak to Syrian refugees, to gather stories to tell at home and, hopefully, make people listen. I went with an idea of what they were going to say – that they’d witnessed warfare, how terrifying it was and how much they’d lost. What I couldn’t anticipate was how just how much those people would speak to me and how closely their stories would stay with me.

So far, the people I met have survived the war - that is to say, they’ve escaped the bloodshed and the bombs. Along with a total of two million Syrians exiled from their country since Syrian civil war broke out in March 2011, they no longer face snipers shooting at them as they make their way to work or their school being bombed as they study. But, still, each one has lost their lives. They have lost their money, their country, members of their families. The houses they worked hard to buy or build were levelled in front of them. Amongst the families I meet is one young woman who explained how her sister’s children were sleeping upstairs when their house was attacked by airstrikes. The children were killed instantly. I meet a three-year-old orphan, Seren, who lost her mother and father, along with 38 other members of her family when a funeral they were attending was bombed.

Seren survived – along with her elderly grandmother, Bahar. Now, the two live in Za’atari camp amongst 150,000 other refugees in a dust-ridden tent. Their possessions are minimal – a few blankets, precisely folded in the corner, the clothes they are wearing. When we sit on foam mats lining the sides of the tent – their beds – the uneven ground below feels sharp. They survive on food rations donated by Save the Children and little else. Bahar cries, hard, for the entire time we speak – she says she is fearful: for her granddaughter’s safety after she heard rumours of a four-year-old being raped nearby; and for her prospects. “We have no future here,” she says. “We have nothing.”

Za'atari Camp

Za’atari - the world’s second biggest refugee camp and Jordan’s fourth largest ‘city’ - is overwhelming. Tents are lined up, shoulder to shoulder in crowded areas, alongside handfuls of tiny metal makeshift flats built in an attempt to protect families from the bitter middle-eastern winter. In the coming months, temperatures will reach near freezing point and severe flooding could mean the tents – and the few possessions inside – literally float away, as they did last year. The children have no warm clothes; some don’t even have a pair of socks. I meet a family of five whose parents are stuck in Syria, who are looked after by the oldest sibling, a 13-year-old girl. Their clothes are threadbare and their teeth rotten. They have so little in terms of hygiene that they fall ill frequently, and this will only be exacerbated by the winter.

Many families believe that they can escape the harsh conditions by smuggling themselves out of Za’atari to nearby capital Amman, seeking refuge in apartments so-called host communities. In reality, they only face a whole new set of problems. The families I met there were formerly wealthy pharmacists, property owners and business owners. Now, they live on hand-outs from the Imam at the mosque and eat every other day when a neighbouring restaurant hands over its leftovers.

What affected me most was hearing the war so accurately retold by children. Whilst some were muted by the terrors they saw, others were disturbingly forthcoming. They spoke flippantly about seeing dead bodies lying on the street “everyday”, and watching out of their window as gun fire sounded. A five-year-old smiled coyly as she described her father being stripped, beaten and tortured with electrical wires in front of her. Her cousin, a seven-year-old boy, stood proudly to show me how he knew the difference between a machine gun and an assault rifle, meticulously demonstrating how the two are held by soldiers he saw frequently in the street. Afterwards, he looked up, smiling expectantly in search of praise, like he'd just won a race.

Za'atari Camp Kindergarten area

The only relief these children get is provided by Save the Children. The charity work tirelessly in Za’atari and the host communities alike to provide food, kindergarten care for young children, child friendly spaces and youth centres for older children. But they need funding to continue. For our Christmas campaign, Grazia teamed up with Save the Children’s Syrian Emergency Fund to make a difference to the lives of the Syrian refugees – and we hope that you will help us to do that. However small, your donation has the potential to make a huge impact.

The Syrians, more than anything, have dignity and they have hope. They have the determination to survive – but they need our help, too. Which is why I wrote this story.

To donate, please visit savethechildren.org.uk or text SYRIA to 70008 to donate £5.

To read Zoe's full report, pick up a copy of this week's Grazia.

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