Invisible Refugees

Dust clouds the air, children coughing from the omnipresent dust, sweating profusely from the incessant heat. These same children run around the Zaatari camp playing games where they shoot at each other, pretending to fall and die. Chanting occurs in different sections, all calling for the demise of President Bashar Al- Asad. Through out the day the men and women in the camp have nothing to do, so they sit in their tents, remembering their pasts, remembering the dreams they once had, remembering the days they spent walking in the streets of Syria. Refugees defined by the American Heritage Dictionary are those “who flee in search of refuge, as in times of war, political oppression, or religious persecution.” The Middle East as a region has had more than three million refugees displaced since 1958.

Yet does society know what happens once these refugees are let into other countries?  Over the years countless of drives have occurred, raising money for refugees, and seeking clothes, food, and other necessities. As members of society no steps have been taken to gather information about the lives of refugees as they are living within the camp. Above all things it is vital to focus on the impact being displaced has on the refugees. They are ultimately psychologically and physically scarred. The rights of refugees are not clearly defined. These children have lost their futures, their chance of having an education, and adults lose their opportunities to make an income to support their children. The refugees futures are out of their control, and ultimately they are thought of as a burden on society. Giving the refugees an education, and opportunities that can save their lives can prevent this issue.

The Syrian Civil War began in the southern city of Daraa in March 2011. The war was ignited when young boys were put in “a gloomy interrogation room the children were beaten and bloodied, burned and had their fingernails pulled out by grown men working for a regime whose unchecked brutality appears increasingly to be sowing the seeds of its undoing” (Macleod, CBSNews). The families and friends of the people protested and as the violence of pro regime forces increased, so did the will of the people, until a full-fledged revolution began. The people chanted words of freedom, and words of defiance, “Al shaab yoreed eskaat el nizam” thousands of people chanted, translating into “The people want to topple the regime.” The revolution has been occurring for approximately two years and eleven days, as of March 16th 2013 (The Syrian, Children of The Syrian Revolution). Over four million citizens have been internally displaced, three million have been externally displaced, and eighty thousand Syrians have died (Ahmed, Envoy 2013).

On February 13, 2013, the Global Post published a short video of the lives of the youngest victims in the Syrian Civil War. The video was named “Syria’s youngest victims: Children describe growing up in a war zone.” An eleven-year-old boy named Yahya, who grew up in Khaldieh Homes says, “We lived next to where the massacre is, they told them to leave but they refused. The men were carrying knives to slaughter them with.” When asked how he knew this had happened he recounted ”Because I saw it with my own eyes and they hid with us.” He then speaks of wanting to pick up a weapon whenever he sees one, and his sister says that he makes bombing sounds when he sleeps. His nine-year-old sister Fatimah says how she hears him at night yelling “Oh I was shot. Come Yaseen” (Global Post).

Turkieh an eight-year-old girl speaks saying, “My mum went to buy bread and was coming back and the sniper shot her.” This little girl sits against the wall, her brown curls matted against her head, and she grasps her arms. She is shaking her head and frowning clearly desolate, until she begins to talk about the past. She giggles as she asks everyone around her if they remember when it snowed in Homs, and how they used to take of their slippers and run through the streets, racing (Global Post). Ahmad an elven year old grasps a bullet in his hand. He stares at the camera a few seconds before answering that he has found many bullets in the streets. When the reporter asked if he has seen injured people he answers “ I have seen a lot, I have seen a lot, I have seen a lot.” He gives a vivid imagery of the dead bodies, no arms, no legs, no heads, laying in the streets or in fridges. “Where are your school mates?” the interviewer asks, he responds “Most of them are dead, most of them are dead. Some of them I used to play with on the streets are dead” (Global Post).

This is the life of citizens in Syria. They may not be physically dead but they are emotionally tortured and waiting their inevitable turn. A friend living in Syria spoke of how while the Syrian war has emotionally scarred her, when things become too awful she reminds herself to be grateful because she is not a refugee “I remember that some people were forced to flee their homes and are now bearing this winter without a jacket to keep warm in the refugee camps.” (Ojjeh, Interview with Syrian).

The lives of Syrian refugees within the camp is near to living in a jail. “We have nothing to do, nothing to do all day, it’s horrible” (Ojjeh, Interview with a refugee). Refugees are confined into the camp walls, given only the basic necessities of life. Yet even with the basic necessities of life, the shelter is inadequate, along with the education. “Our kids are forced to do nothing all day, I as a mother am forced to do nothing all day. We have no money, we have nothing. They won’t even give us acceptable shelter. Our kids are freezing at night, and waking up crying from sore backs.” (Ojjeh, Interview with a refugee mother).

From statistics compiled from the IRIN, which is a service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the following results concerning countries in the Middle East and their refugee situations were found. “IRIN, Humanitarian News and Analysis.”

Egypt:

  • Egypt is both a refugee host country and a transit point for asylum-seekers. It hosts refugees from 38 countries.
  • As of 30 August 2010, the registered population of concern to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) was 38,962, of whom 57 percent were Sudanese nationals, 17 percent Iraqi and 17 percent Somali.

Iraq:

  • Iraqis are the second-largest refugee group in the world.
  • As of August 2010, there were 207,639 UNHCR-documented Iraqi refugees living beyond their country’s borders. The estimated number of IDPs exceeds 1.55 million.

Jordan:

  • Jordan is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.
  • Around 1.9 million Palestinians are registered with UNRWA. Unlike any other host country, Jordan granted all Palestinian refugees full citizenship rights, except for the 120,000 Palestinians who originally came from the Gaza Strip.
  • As of end of July, 2010, there were 32,599 registered persons of concern,

Lebanon:

  • Lebanon is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.
  • Around 425,000 Palestinian refugees are registered with UNRWA, while around 3,000 are not registered and have no identity documents. About 53 percent of registered refugees live in 12 official refugee camps across the country, while the rest live in cities, towns and informal refugee camps.

Syria:

  • Syria is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.
  • Around 427,000 Palestinian refugees are registered with UNRWA.
  • They have the same rights as Syrian citizens, barring citizenship rights.
  • As of end July 2010, there were 151,907 Iraqi refugees registered with UNHCR in Syria, as well as 4,317 non-Iraqi refugees and 1,156 non-Iraqi asylum-seekers.

Not only in Jordan, but also through out the Middle East, their host countries give these thousands of refugees very little. According to the United Nations, the primary constraints in the region for refugees is the following (UNHCR, Refugees: Middle East):

  1. Unstable conditions have led to security constrains, continued displacement and an increase in the vulnerability of a number of refugee groups
  2. The humanitarian situation of those displaced continues to pose a heavy burden on host governments
  3. The countries in the region are struggling with their own economic and social challenges, and they must continue to host hundreds of thousands of refugees
  4. Concerns dominate asylum policies and practices, and the absence of regional and national legal frameworks to deal with population displacement continue to be a major hindrance to progress in institutionalizing protection in the region.

The lives of children refugees is anything but easy. Over the past months the number of children refugees that are crossing the border by themselves has grown to be about twenty children a week. These children, regardless of whether they are with their families or not, are all scarred psychologically, and many have physical scars. According to The Guardian “some are haunted by the deaths of relatives, friends and neighbors. Some hear the sound of shelling and shooting constantly replaying in their heads. Many have seen their homes and communities turned to rubbles” (Sherwood, The Guardian.) In the refugee camps in Jordan two- thirds of the population are children. These children are faced with countless psycho- social distress problems, such as aggression, vandalism, nightmares, and wetting the bed. A fourteen- year old girl escaped Deraa`, an area in Syria with her seven siblings and their parents. She tells The Guardian how she had to walk in the dark for hours, and arrived to Jordan at two in the morning. The cause for their leaving was that their were clashes in their neighborhood, she speaks about how all fifty children in her Arabic class tried escaping and running away but the fighting lasted for an hour (Sherwood, The Guardian.) Another fourteen-year-old child, Kareem, mimics for The Guardian the sound of shelling and gunfire, as he tells the story of the attacks on his communities’ homes. He speaks of a woman that was hit by shrapnel in her chest while she was nursing her baby, and how three other children died. These children have had to face horrors that adults do not face. These troubles, and vivid memories, will haunt the refugees for the rest of their lives.

There are approximately 54 million displaced civilians in the world; 37 million of these are refugees. Eighty percent of these refugees are children and women. Three fourths of these children had more than one family member or close friend killed (World Revolution).

Once these children become refugees they lose their childhoods, they are forced to grow up quickly. They must face the world as adults do. One child had to become a shoe shiner, because he had to find a way to support his mother and two sisters. His education was forgone, as were his dreams of having “a beautiful life.” Another child recounted his difficulty with sleeping, after he saw the death of people, and the bodies of kids torn into pieces. This is why I feel education needs to be a focus.

Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” For the people who need their worlds to be changed the most, education is their haven. For children, having a classroom to go to can be their opportunity to be creative, to feel equal to other children around the world. It can be a place where they forget about what has happened to them. With the right education the children can advocate for themselves when they grow older, they can lobby for aid. They can become equals in society when competing for jobs, or for a college acceptance. We live in a world that exemplifies opportunity, I believe we must pursue this idealistic dream and create opportunities for everyone– especially those living in dire situations. We must promote this opportunity that we have stood by for so long.

The salvation of the refugee children will essentially be education. Programs need to be established that integrate refugee children into the school systems. These programs need to ensure the communication between the instructor and the children is successful. Better relationships can form through this communication and the success of these programs is ensured. Refugee children must be placed in classes where they are encouraged, and not discouraged, these children must be placed in classes that are equal to their intellectual ability. Giving them the ability and the opportunity to embrace success. Teachers need to be trained in dealing with the psychological weaknesses that the children have so that they are able to treat and handle the child in the appropriate manner, through these efforts the teacher can become a positive force in the life of a refugee child. The benefits of placing a child in school must be advertised to refugee parents, awareness of the long lasting success and benefit of education must increase. By expressing support and having the family compensated for the cost of the child going to school the program ensures more parents will send their child to school as well as financially benefit the families. Finally by making education mandatory these programs are ensuring that refugees will become better educated and creating a future generation of children that will not burden society but fend for themselves and become productive members of the society they live in.

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