March 20, 2013

Syrian Refugees


Jessica: Today’s lesson: English. But the discussion can’t get away from what is on everyone’s minds.

Student: We want to go back to Syria.

Jessica: They all say they want to go home. For now, home is here – Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan where about 100,000 Syrians who fled the violence of civil war now live. It is where I met 17-year-old Baraa. She is from the town of Daraa, where the Syrian revolution began two years ago.

Peaceful protesters were reportedly targeted and gunned down by the Syrian government. That crackdown sparked a rebellion to overthrow Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. The United Nations says more than 70,000 people have been killed.

Baraa’s family was afraid they would be shot just on the street. So one night, they left their home walking for hours until they crossed the border to Jordan.

Do you feel at lease that you are safe here at the refugee camp?

Baraa: No.

Jessica: So you don’t feel safe here?

Baraa: I don’t feel safe in a tent among other people I don’t know. People are from all over the country, not just my hometown. There are bad people among us.

Jessica: So, this is Baraa’s tent. Four people sleep here. And besides the beds, there is nothing else in here. And there is this little space over here where people get dressed. And she says she only has four outfits.

Would you rather be here or back in Syria where there is still a lot of violence?

Baraa: I go back and forth. Some days I say it’s better to be here in safety, but other days I’d rather be home even if there’s bombings and danger.

Jessica: Her story is not uncommon. Many young people here told me they miss home but they have memories of Syria that will haunt them forever – bodies in the street, pools of blood wherever they turned, airstrikes raining down missiles on towns, and the most painful…memories of the loved ones they have lost.

Student: They were hitting our school! Many children died, so we got scared and stopped going to school.

Jessica: A report out last week by a humanitarian aid group says the children of Syria are being targeted in the country’s civil war. They are being shot, bombed, beaten, tortured and raped.

Jane Macphail: Stuff that we read in horror books about.

Jessica: Before the civil war, Syria had a strong education system and a modern society with bustling cities and businesses. Young people had goals for their future.

Baraa: My dream is to return home, study at the University of Syria and become an eye doctor in Syria.

Jessica: Today, much of the country is in ruins. Experts worry these children of war are going to be lost.

Jane: We see kids who’ve been through such profound stress over such a long period of time that they’ve forgotten what schooling is like – what it’s like to be a kid.

Jessica: We got a taste of that up close.

I’m, like, a little worried.

We just had to move because the kids are throwing stones at us.

So, why are they doing that? Why are they throwing stones at us?

Jane: Well, because when people have been under such long-term, profound stress, what happens is that you are no longer able to assess what is dangerous. So, it’s not that they have an intention to hurt.

Jessica: The boys later told us they didn’t know why they threw the rocks. They just want people to know they want to go home.

If you don’t help them and they continue on this path, what happens to them as adults?

Jane: Well, we’ve lost more generations. If you look at the history of war, it is the volition of people who have themselves suffered incredible, profound stress.

Jessica: One way to reconnect is by going to school.

Baraa: I feel stuck here. All this has no purpose. Back home, we used to do things that had purpose.

Jessica: But what about school? Has that helped you in any way?

Baraa: It’s the best thing that happened to me. It’s the only thing that doesn’t feel like a waste of time.

Jessica: Baraa is one of the lucky ones. About 5,000 students attend the only school here. But in this camp, 20,000 children could be in school.

As the Syrian war drags on, the number of people who need help is skyrocketing.

Today, you surpassed this huge landmark – that now there are more than 1 million Syrian refugees. Did you ever expect this number to come so fast so quickly?

Alexis Masciarelli: No, this came much faster than anything we expected. All the plans we had were to have about 300,000 refugees by the end of June. We’ve already passed that mark and we’re only at the start of March. By the end of June, we actually expect half a million refugees here in Jordan.

Jessica: There isn’t enough money coming in from other countries to continue to support camps like these.

Alexis: If no funding comes very quickly, we’ll be in a situation where we will have to decide what do we cut. We’ll have to decide what our priorities are, and most probably our priorities will be lifesaving operations, such as providing clean water.

Jessica: Still, there is hope to be found here. Hope that Baraa will one day become an eye doctor. Hope that Syrians will be able to go home. And hope that the wounds of war will heal into faded scars.

Jessica Kumari, Channel One News.


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