Syrian youth and children confront the hardships of displacement with determinationSyrian children tell their stories as refugees in the Azraq camp as they try to build a better future for themselves.
Every day, the streets of the sprawling Azraq refugee camp in Jordan see hundreds of children who have lost their homes, friends and all sense of normalcy.
Throughout the past eight years, fighting in Syria has caused 5.6 million people to flee to neighbouring countries. Azraq camp, the second most populated Syrian refugees camp in Jordan, hosts more than 40,000 refugees, half of which are children and adolescents under the age of 18. Behind these statistics are real children, like 14-year-old Omar.
Most mornings, Omar wakes up at dawn and roam the streets of the camp on his bike carriage in the hope of finding someone who needs to move things from one place to another.
“I had to quit school at the age of 12 to be able to support my family,” said Omar as he adjusted his bike.
With an almost blind father and a sick mother, the young boy was forced to grow up before his time, losing his childhood to responsibilities that should only fall on adults, to become the sole supporter of his family of six.
Similar to 14 percent of children in the camp, who are out of school, Omar had to give up his dreams and education. Child labour is common among refugees although often a last desperate option for parents to turn to in order to overcome the challenges they face. The young teenager who works for 10 hours a day and barely makes EUR 3.
“I am proud to be the one earning money, but as long as I work on this bike, I have no future,” he added.
In another part of the camp lives 13-year-old Awsaf who recently decided to quit school after getting bullied by older girls, and getting harassed and followed home by boys on her way back from school.
“The girls were mean and I did not feel safe walking home from school,” said Awsaf with a sad look in her eyes.
After staying home for two weeks, Awsaf’s mother was finally able to convince her daughter to try school again.
“I want to finish my studies. I want to be independent and to leave this camp for good,” she said with a wistful look.
When Awsaf and her family first arrived at the camp, she used to get scared of the sound of planes. It took her more than a year to get over her fear and to realise she was finally safe.
“I don’t want to feel scared again. I want to go back to school and get the education I need,” she added with a smile. She is now learning how to overcome the challenges that stand in the way to the future she wants.
For thousands of young girls and boys in the Azraq camp, becoming a refugee has interrupted their childhood. For 18-year-old Waed, it has completely changed her life. Upon arriving to the camp with her family when she was 14 years old, Waed felt like marriage was all what the future held for her.
“Our financial situation was bad. My father couldn’t support all seven of us,” she said. The young girl was married off when she was barely 16. “I felt like I had to grow up too quickly,” she said.
For many refugee families, early marriage is one of the negative coping mechanisms they use to make ends meet and in hopes of providing security for their daughters.
“This is how it usually goes; girls quit school at 12 or 13 and are married off soon after,” Waed explained.
Now, a mother of a 4-months-old Saja, Waed wants to ensure her babygirl gets to make all of her important life decisions herself.
“I want a better life for my daughter. I want her to study and graduate and to have a real future,” Waed said carrying Saja in her arms.
Omar, Awsaf and Waed all hope for a brighter and more stable future. Omar dreams of being able to go back to school and get a good education. Awsaf wants to grow up to become an engineer and is studying hard to see her dreams come true. Waed wants to raise an independent girl who is able to provide for herself and make her own decisions.
While the three of them got to tell their stories, for every story told and voice heard, there are millions more waiting for the world to listen to.
DRC in Azraq
To help Syrian refugees in Azraq camp, the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) operates three Community Centres in three of the camp’s villages, one of them is dedicated to providing support for women and children. The centres provide assistance related to livelihoods, cash-for-work activities and psycho-social support in addition to addressing other important protection challenges.