March 14, 2016 / 3:32 PM / 4 years ago

Syrian children's memories of home fade in Jordan camp

ZAATARI CAMP, Jordan (Reuters) - Over five years of Syria’s civil war, tents have given way to sturdy shacks in Jordan’s Zaatari Refugee Camp, dusty tracks have been paved, acquiring names, and a generation has been born to parents who fear their children will never see home.

Moroccan doctors carry a Syrian baby Siwar, who was born by caesarean section in a field hospital in Al Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, March 7, 2016. REUTERS/ Muhammad Hamed

Hudhayfah Al Hariri, who fled from Deraa four years ago, witnessed Zaatari as it mushroomed to a settlement of 85,000 refugees, becoming by population Jordan’s fourth largest “city”. Children play between their makeshift homes, schools operate, doctors attend to all, babes in arms to the elderly.

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Hariri, 26, had planned to marry in his home town. Their apartment was furnished. But as shelling mounted he was forced to flee. His was the first of many weddings to be held in the desert camp 15 kms (10 miles) from Jordan’s border with Syria. 

A picture of the day shows Hariri and his young wife sitting on plastic chairs before a festive orange tapestry, he staring fixedly at the camera, she glancing away, wistful.

The father of two worries his children later born in the camp - Retaj, 2, and Yaman, 8 months - might lose any link to home and family left behind.

“My dream is to go back to Syria, and raise my children there - to live in the land of our grandfathers, for my children to live in the land of goodness. My grandfather’s home, it would be different, to raise my children there,” said Hariri.

“This isn’t our country, our home is Syria. When they’re older I’ll tell them, but I hope that they’ll grow up in Syria.”

Since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in 2011, more than 4.2 million people have fled Syria. Some 13.5 million need protection and help inside Syria, of which more than six million are children, according to the United Nations.


Um Ahmad, 26, who fled from Homs 3 years ago after her home was destroyed by shelling, is pregnant with her fourth child. This will be the second time she gives birth in the camp. 

She said it saddened her that her children, having spent their early years in Syria, had only fading memories of home.

“When we first came here they would keep asking me, when will we go back? But now they’ve forgotten, they’re busy with playing and school, they don’t think about it anymore. If we’re here for two more years we might all forget Syria.” 

The United Nations refugee organization UNHCR estimates that 50 to 80 children have been born in Zaatari each week since the camp was established in 2012.

The camp has two maternity facilities, one the Moroccan field hospital, with 60 beds, an operating room and a staff of 118 people. The other clinic, supported by the United Nations, has 24 beds, and is staffed by 39 Jordanian gynecologists, pediatricians, midwives and nurses.

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One baby girl, Siwar, was born on March 7 in a dimly lit operating room within the Moroccan field hospital. Doctors wearing blue scrubs and white face masks delivered her by c-section in a tent sterilized to become fit for operations.

Her mother, Um Rimas, 22, said her greatest sorrow was that her parents had not met their grandchildren,

“It’s difficult here. When you’re in your country, surrounded by your family, you feel different. I have no one in the camp,” she said, her voice faint after the delivery of a second child whose place of birth, but not her home, will be Zaatari.

Editing by Ralph Boulton

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