The struggle to survive: Jeena and Khaled, two Syrian refugee children in Jordan

Jeena and Khaled are refugee children from Syria who were forced to flee from the brutal conflict in Syria and are now living in neighbouring Jordan.

© Jeena, shows off her prized possession: a flowery dress. The kitchen where her family prepares their food is dirty and in disrepair. Half of Syrian refugees in Jordan live in inadequate housing.© UNHCR / J. Kohler / February 2014

15-year old Khaled is living in Za’atri refugee camp and the only provider for his three younger siblings. His story captures not only the pain and fear that many separated children feel, but also their resilience in the face of an uncertain future. When asked whether he misses his mother, Khaled tugs the brim of his baseball cap low over his face and begins to cry. “I miss having her around us, to sit with her, to actually get to see her face.” he says. When fighting escalated in Syria, Khaled, his brother and two sisters, were able to escape to Jordan, while his parents had to stay behind. The pressure the teenager feels to protect and provide for his siblings in an unknown country is often overwhelming. “It was scary,” he says. “We were suddenly all alone and I found myself responsible for my siblings… If anything were to ever happen to them, I could never live with myself.”

Jenna lives with her family in a small and dilapidated rented apartment in the town of Ramtha in Jordan. Like most of the Syrian refugees in Jordan, Jenna and her family live in inadequate housing. While Jenna and her family receive food vouchers from UNHCR’s partner the World Food Programme, a healthy diet remains a challenge. Jenna’s big sister Rana attends school, but more than half of the Syrian refugee children in Jordan are not receiving education. Jenna’s world is the courtyard outside the apartment in Ramtha, and her most precious belonging is her flowery dress.

Both Jenna and Khaled’s families have received help. However, since the needs are enormous, UNHCR, its partner organizations and Jordan authorities, are struggling to only provide basic protection and support, such as shelter; core relief items; food; water; limited financial help, and for the most vulnerable health care, psychosocial support and education. For instance in 2014, more than 80 000 refugees received cash cards to be able to buy food. More than one million children, including about 160 000 refugee children were vaccinated against polio. In Za’atri camp a ‘back to school’ campaign reached 40 000 refugees, and about 1500 children have been treated for severe war-related injuries and trauma disorders. In addition, substituting tents with caravans, thousands of caravans have been distributed in Za’atri camp, with only some 1 000 tents remaining.

UNHCR would not have been able to protect and support the Syrian refugees without the generous support from countries such as Estonia. Estonia has increased its support to UNHCR in recent years and has from 2012 until 2014 donated EUR 740 000 of which EUR 250 000 to Syrian refugees in Jordan. Estonia also sent a logistics expert to help set up a new refugee camp in Azraq in Jordan, and Estonia has set up a youth educational computer center in Za’atri refugee camp.

In April this year UNHCR had registered almost 590 000 Syrian refugees in Jordan of which more than 300 000 children, many of them seriously traumatized. Jordan has three refugee camps and Za’atri refugee camp is the second largest refugee camp in the world with about 105 000 inhabitants. However, more than 80 per cent of the Syrian refugees in Jordan live outside the camps struggling every day to make a living.

The conflict in Syria has forced more than 2.7 million people to flee the country, half of them children, many under the age of five. Almost all refugees have fled to Syria’s neighboring countries, whose own societies and economies are under extreme pressure. In addition, around 6.5 million people have fled their homes within Syria due to the violence.