Syria field diary: “I want to go back home”
Unicef UK’s Ara Yoo reports from Za’atari camp in northern Jordan, where winter temperatures mean freezing nights for children.
It was a Friday, the first day of the weekend here in Jordan. But nine Unicef colleagues met at 7am at the office to travel to Za’atari Syrian refugee camp in the north of the country. Despite the early start, there was excitement in the air: we would be showing the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon a UNICEF-supported project. That’s a big deal.
We got there sometime after 8am as it’s an hour and a half drive to the camp from Amman. It was cold. It must have been around 7 degrees, but with the wind chill factor it felt much colder. We had a look around the site before the Secretary General arrived.
Children at the children’s play space, all between about 3 and 10 years old, were standing in a circle outside the tent singing songs and playing games. Most of them were wearing flimsy sweaters and no jackets, let alone coats. Worse than that, all of them were wearing sandals with no socks.
This little two year old girl sat on a tyre eating her bread wearing only a pair of green socks. It was heart-wrenching.
I felt guilty. Wearing a warm winter jacket, leather boots and lots of layers, I felt inappropriately dressed in front of them. But the truth is that these children were the ones inappropriately dressed for this temperature. And worst of all, they had slept in a tent at below zero temperatures. So while I watched them clap and sing, I couldn’t help feeling sad. I’d heard it said that this was the best refugee camp in the world. But how can it be if children are sleeping on the floor, in a tent, in below-zero temperatures and are wearing plastic sandals in winter?
As part of his briefing, Ban Ki-moon visited a Unicef school inside the camp and spoke to the students. When asked what they needed, one of the girls answered “I want to go back home”.
Ara Yoo is an International Programme Specialist at Unicef UK.