Conflict in Syria has forced almost4 million people to flee their homes and everything they know to take refuge in other countries. According the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), in Jordan alone, around 700,000 Syrians live in refugee camps and in urban areas.
It’s four years into the Syrian Civil War and conditions are only getting worse with overcrowding and a sense of desperation with no clear road to peace in sight.
Renowned writer Khaled Hosseini – celebrated for his novel “The Kite Runner” and other works – knows firsthand what it means to be a refugee. When he was 14 years old, his family had to leave Afghanistan and seek asylum in the United States. He grew up to study medicine before making it big as a novelist, and serves as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR to bring awareness to refugee crisis worldwide.
Hosseini is currently visiting Syrian refugees in Jordan. It’s his 6th trip with UNCHR, having previously visited refugee camps in Afghanistan, Chad and northern Iraq.
Here Hosseini shares with Fusion his diary entries from the refugee camps, telling us in his own words and through photos what it’s like to be there.
“The busiest artery in Zaatari refugee camp, filled with shops, beauty salons and restaurants run by Syrian refugee entrepreneurs. The camp residents affectionately refer to the street as the Champs Élysées.”
“I am learning about patient triage at the Jordan Health Aid Society (JHAS) clinic funded by UNHCR. The clinic is one of five clinics in Zaatari camp in Jordan that currently houses over 80,000 Syrian refugees.”
FUN AND GAMES TOO
“I had the pleasure of hanging out with a Syrian refugee youth group that has formed a band performing socially conscious music that addresses child labor, forced marriage etc. The group also works with disabled youth in the camp.”
According to UNHCR, many parents don’t enroll their children in school so they can do work to help their families. Other kids simply need to drop out of school. That’s why this group’s songs strike a chord with the Syrian community here.
“These are members of the Syrian youth group who performed the traditional Levantine dance called Dabke for us. I gave it a go but couldn’t quite master the shoulder shimmy.”
Even though conditions are tough, refugees at Zaatari receive bread ratios and cash for food ATM cards that can be used at the two supermarkets that have been set up, according to UNHCR. Also, people haven’t lost their good spirits! Just because someone is a refugee it doesn’t mean that they don’t sing, dance and keep their traditions alive any way they can. Also, since opportunities for work and entertainment are scarce, groups like these play an important part of community life.
PRESERVING SYRIAN HERITAGE
“Members of the Zaatari Art Group showing me their paintings and sculptures of Syrian historical landmarks that have been damaged in the conflict. Through this project they hope to preserve a sense of heritage, culture and history to remind both Syrians and outsiders of Syria’s rich past.”
This is the first of a three-part series on refugees’ lives in Jordan by Khaled Hosseini.
Tomorrow: a look at the Azqar camp.
All photos by Jordi Matas/UNCHR
For more information, visit: donate.unhcr.org/international/khaled-hosseini