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“Tell Bashar to stop killing our children”

by Sharan Burrow

(AP)

 

Four days ago Rana left her apartment in Homs, Syria. She left behind her home, friends and job at her family-run supermarket.

Last night she crossed the Jordanian border with six of her children.

“Fighter planes killed my son,” she told me.

“I left my home to save the rest of my family.”

Rana and her family were part of a group of 374 people who came from Syria into Jordan overnight.

Today they arrived at al-Zaatari refugee camp ten miles from the border.

They travelled on foot to the open border, some for days, from towns and cities – Homs, Damascus, Dar’a – which have made the headlines with bombings and brutal attacks.

The youngest of the group to register at the UNHCR run camp is nine days old, the oldest 82.

No-one is left untouched by the conflict in Syria.

It is estimated more than 36,000 people have been killed since the fighting started in March 2011.

Thousands of families have fled their homes for safety and protection in neighbouring Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon.

Jordan alone has 200,000 refugees, most living with families and in communities. And as the conflict drags on, communities are bursting at the seams.

Three months ago the Jordanian government took the decision to open it’s first refugee camp for Syrians.

When the camp was first opened on 28 July, 2,000 people were crossing the border each night.

Originally planned to house 45,000 people, Zaatari is expanding to accommodate 80,000 people, with a camp built from scratch in the desert.

What began as a small-scale, short-term aid operation is continuing to grow.

With winter coming and the fighting continuing, these families won’t be going home. Aid workers are planning for the long haul.

After three months of the World Food Programme providing emergency hot meals to the camp (30,000 meals a day), communal kitchens have now been built in the camp.

Families are given daily food rations including pulses, sugar, salt, oil, lentils, rice and fresh bread.

It was in one of the camp kitchens that I met Raabab, stirring a pot over a gas stove, with her ten-year-old daughter Dima.

“Tell Bashar to stop killing our children, and let us go back home. I want to go home,” she told me. Her daughter simply wanted to be able to go to school.

Tented schools have been set up for 2,400 children the majority of which are girls, but still there are not enough places.

Teaching takes place in two shifts: one for girls, the other for boys.

Samer, a Syrian teacher in the camp told us of the desperate need for books and materials.

With Education International, unions will try to support these schools.

Jordan has always opened its heart to refugees.

70 per cent of people who live and work in Jordan are from Palestine. Nearly 200,000 Syrians and many Iraqis are staying with families.

But the pressures on the people of Jordan are beginning to show.

Public opinion in Jordan, a nation generous in welcoming it neighbours, is turning against the latest refugee intake.

From a briefing with UNHCR I was told 65 per cent of people say close the borders, while 85 per cent of people say refugees are a burden on water resources and are taking away jobs from Jordanians.

My colleagues from the Jordanian unions visited the camps with me and heard the message from the aid agencies and the people we spoke to: keep the border open.

While thousands of people have fled the violence, some groups of workers remain unaccounted for.

Where are the domestic workers, for example?

They’re not being registered in camps, and most embassies in Damascus are now shut.

We can only fear that many Sri Lankan and Filipino women are trapped inside Syria.

We need an immediate end to the fighting, and the end of Bashar’s untrammelled power. The trade union movement will not just stand by and watch attacks on families and communities.

Back in Zaatari camp the last of today’s arrivals are collecting their blankets, mattresses and kitchen sets.

Each household is given a solar powered light, which doubles as a mobile phone charger.

This allows Rana to keep in touch with her friends and family.

Aid workers in al-Zaatari camp are getting ready for the cold season.

2500 pre-fabricated houses have been constructed as the temporary camp built in the summer gets ready for winter, but more will be needed, along with winter clothes, hot water and health services.

We need to support the work of UNHCR because here in Jordan, as in many other places, they’re doing important work.

No-one imagines that this could happen to them, that one day you would have to leave your home, your job, your community with the clothes on your back and walk to safety.

In al-Zaatari people don’t hear the bombs and the guns, and they feel safe.

But every night Rana dreams of being able to go home.

 

Sharan Burrow visited UNHCR’s Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan with Khaled Abu Marjoub of the Jordanian trade union GFJTU, Shahir Sae’d of the Palestinian trade union PGFTU, Ken Georgetti of the Canadian Labour Congress and Fred van Leeuwen of Education International. All names have been changed.

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