AMMAN, Jordan, 7 November 2012 – As the canvas roof of her family’s tent flaps in the wind, Fatma* holds her son close, gently brushing dust from his face.
UNICEF correspondent Guy Degen reports on how Syrian refugee families are faring in Za’atari refugee camp in northern Jordan.
The baby is just 8 weeks old and among the youngest Syrian refugees in the Za’atari camp in northern Jordan.
Difficult days, difficult journey, uncertain future
Determined to reach safety, Fatma, her husband Moncef and their six children managed to make the difficult journey from their family home in the southern part of the Syrian Arab Republic across the border into Jordan.
She was nine months pregnant.
“I thought now that, if we leave Syria, I will at least be able to live without thinking about the horror and fear that we went through every day, morning, afternoon and evening at home,” she says. “Back in Syria, we could never predict when the shelling would start. I thought to myself: if we leave, I will finally be able to relax.”
Nine days after arriving at Za’atari, Fatma gave birth in one of the camp clinics.
As a sign of how uncertain the family feels about their future, the baby boy is still without a name.
Moncef is very worried for his youngest child.
“I find myself in a daze for about half an hour every day, thinking about home with the one constant thought in my head of wanting to go back,” he says.
Newborn care, in unpleasant conditions
As many families with young children have found, the fine desert dust that envelops the camp is a particular problem. Infants can find it hard to breathe during dust storms, and parents struggle to keep baby bottles sterile and cooking utensils clean.
Fatma’s and Moncef’s newborn has already received vaccinations. In the weeks ahead, the boy’s weight and growth will be monitored closely by UNICEF teams for any signs of malnutrition.
“I’m a mother, and I can’t imagine what it would be like to give birth in a place like this,” says UNICEF Country Representative in Jordan Dominique Hyde. “UNICEF is doing its best to help these families, providing vaccines, infant feeding and basic support.”
Children look forward to school
For the family’s school-age children, returning to class at the new camp is helping with the uncertainty.
Sitting with classmates in the recently opened camp school, 13-year-old Noor says she loves math. When she started her lessons, it had been nearly two years since she last attended class. School is now something to look forward to every day.
Nearly 3,000 students are registered for school in Za’atari. The school works in two shifts, with girls attending in the morning and boys in the afternoon. UNICEF and its partners are working to expand the school to accommodate 5,000 children.
While he waits his turn for school, 10-year-old Mohammed likes to play with friends in the UNICEF Child Friendly Space near the family’s tent. Moncef works there as a parent supervisor.
Mohammed says the world is filled with laughter when he plays.
He dreams of the day he can return home and see his friends, but especially both of his grandmothers.
“When I get back to Syria, I will go to check on my home. Then I will go to see my grandmother Sua’ad and grandmother Hamda, who was injured after the two rockets destroyed her kitchen.”
Winter preparations under way
The approaching winter is a huge concern, especially for families with newborns and infants. Temperatures in the winter months can fall below 0° F.
UNICEF is accelerating plans to prepare tents for winter and install heaters, covered kitchens and hot showers in the camp.
UNICEF will also provide blankets, baby blankets and warm clothes to make sure the youngest and most vulnerable can cope with the cold conditions quickly approaching.