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UK toys bring smiles to Syrian refugee children

News Stories, 24 December 2013

© UNHCR/A.Needham
For many children in Jordan's Za'atri refugee camp, this initiative gave them the only toys they have.

ZA'ATRI, Jordan, December 24 (UNHCR) The daily routine at kindergartens in Jordan's Za'atri refugee camp rarely begins with the laughter of Syrian children, despite the valiant efforts of their teachers and guardians. This Monday's cold but sunny morning in the 'Sunshine' kindergarten in Za'atri's District 6 was quite different. Excitement, joy, happiness and disbelief rang out as hundreds of toys found their way into the hands of some of the youngest Syrian refugees.

Created, donated or collected by children in Oxford and Berkshire through the Pitt Rivers Museum and the UK Scouts and Guides Fellowship during the Autumn, the toys travelled more than 2,300 miles to their final destination a journey made possible by the UK branch of Aviation Without Borders and UNHCR. The initiative, entitled 'Toys for Smiles' proved this week to be worthy of its name.

"Today we had a surprise. We were told that kids from Britain had sent us toys. I am really amazed. I got Playdoh and I think I can do a lot with it. Thank you, you have made us very happy today," said five year-old Doa'a who fled with her family from Dera'a.

The UK initiative 'Toys for Smiles' follows a similar project organised by Quai Branly Museum in Paris with the help of the UNHCR and the Fédération des Associations d'Anciens du Scoutisme (FAAS) for Syrian refugee children in Turkey.

In the UK, following several months of preparations this summer, the initiative took off during the half-term break in October when children from Oxford schools gathered at toy workshops organised by the Pitt Rivers Museum. Some of them made toys for Syrian refugee children, others donated. On Monday their efforts were met with gratitude and smiles. These toys are a small but important comfort for traumatised children who have lost their homes, or perhaps even their parents, siblings or relatives.

For Syrian refugee children this was a gesture of solidarity and compassion: "The kids in England sent these toys to us because they know we have nothing of our own," said Waed who is five and received a small pink dollhouse. Her friend Mohamed, also five, hugged a clockwork police car: "I want to tell the kids who sent all this stuff that we didn't have toys but now we have more than we ever could have imagined."

The toys distributed on Monday through UNHCR's partner Save the Children International also included those donated or collected by the UK Scouts and Guides Fellowship. All three kindergartens, 17 child friendly spaces and three multi-activity centres in Za'atri refugee camp benefited from 'Toys for Smiles' initiative.

"These children don't have any toys. They have fled their homes and had to leave their cherished and loved toys and games behind in what was a safe and protected place for them. That is why they are so excited to be able to take them home with them to keep," said Safia Abu Shaneen, the 'Sunshine' kindergarten's head teacher. "There is a big positive psychological impact for them because of this act. We explained to the children who had sent the toys and games and they were so happy to hear that people cared enough about them to send them these gifts."

Moving nearly half a ton of toys from the United Kingdom to Jordan was a logistical feat undertaken by the UK branch of the Aviation Without Borders and financially supported by ISTAT foundation. "Assisting with 'Toys for Smiles' is a great privilege for Aviation Without Borders and we are proud to be associated with such a worthwhile UNHCR project," said Stan Stewart, chair of the charity's UK branch.

Za'atari refugee camp is currently home to more than 120,000 Syrian refugees and today it is the fifth largest settlement in Jordan. So far the Syrian conflict has forced more than 2.3 million Syrians to flee their country. More than half of them are children who are now growing up in fractured families, missing out on education and serving as their household's primary breadwinner.

By Andy Needham in Za'atri and Andrej Mahecic in London



Jordan: Toy Distribution Play video

Jordan: Toy Distribution

The UK Pitt Rivers Museum and the UK Scouts and Guides Fellowship have collected toys from British school children to send to Syrian refugee children, based on their global partnership with UNHCR. The most recent shipment consisted of five boxes of toys that weighed more than 800 kilos.

Non-Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

After Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled in Iraq in 2003, groups of refugees who had lived in the country for many years tried to leave the chaos and lawlessness that soon ensued. Hundreds of people started fleeing to the border with Jordan, including Palestinians in Baghdad and Iranian Kurds from the Al Tash refugee camp in central Iraq.

Aside from a few Palestinians with family connections inside the neighbouring country, the refugees were refused entry and free movement in Jordan. Thousands were soon stranded in the no-man's land between Iraq and Jordan or at the desert camp of Ruweished, located 60 kilometres inside Jordan.

Since 2003, Palestinians, Iranian Kurds, Iranians, Sudanese and Somalis have been living there and suffering the scorching heat and freezing winters of the Jordanian desert. UNHCR and its partners have provided housing and assistance and tried to find solutions – the agency has helped resettle more than 1,000 people in third countries. At the beginning of 2007, a total of 119 people – mostly Palestinians – remained in Ruweished camp without any immediate solution in sight.

Posted on 20 February 2007

Non-Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

The UN refugee agency has launched a US$60 million appeal to fund its work helping hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people. The new appeal concludes that unremitting violence in Iraq will likely mean continued mass internal and external displacement affecting much of the surrounding region. The appeal notes that the current exodus is the largest long-term population movement in the Middle East since the displacement of Palestinians following the creation of Israel in 1948.

UNHCR has warned that the longer this conflict goes on, the more difficult it will become for the hundreds of thousands of displaced and the communities that are trying to help them – both inside and outside Iraq. Because the burden on host communities and governments in the region is enormous, it is essential that the international community support humanitarian efforts.

The US$60 million will cover UNHCR's protection and assistance programmes for Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey, as well as non-Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people within Iraq itself.

Posted on 10 January 2007

Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

UNHCR aims to help 25,000 refugee children go to school in Syria by providing financial assistance to families and donating school uniforms and supplies.

There are some 1.4 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, most having fled the extreme sectarian violence sparked by the bombing of the Golden Mosque of Samarra in 2006.

Many Iraqi refugee parents regard education as a top priority, equal in importance to security. While in Iraq, violence and displacement made it difficult for refugee children to attend school with any regularity and many fell behind. Although education is free in Syria, fees associated with uniforms, supplies and transportation make attending school impossible. And far too many refugee children have to work to support their families instead of attending school.

To encourage poor Iraqi families to register their children, UNHCR plans to provide financial assistance to at least 25,000 school-age children, and to provide uniforms, books and school supplies to Iraqi refugees registered with UNHCR. The agency will also advise refugees of their right to send their children to school, and will support NGO programmes for working children.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

Responding to Syria's Tragedy Play video

Responding to Syria's Tragedy

As Syria's war heads towards a fifth year, the United Nations and partners today launched a major new humanitarian and development appeal, requesting over US$8.4 billion in funds to help nearly 18 million people in Syria and across the region in 2015
Celebrating 10 years of refugee resettlementPlay video

Celebrating 10 years of refugee resettlement

Jordan: Camp Life From a Child's ViewpointPlay video

Jordan: Camp Life From a Child's Viewpoint

A UNHCR photographic project, "Do You See What I See," lets young refugees in Jordan's Za'atari camp share their world and thoughts with others.