A new generation of Syrians in exile is born in the Jordanian camp

A new generation of Syrians in exile is born in the Jordanian camp


Ten years after fleeing war in her native Syria, Hadeel is expecting a third child who is being brought to a life of poverty and insecurity in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.

According to the United Nations, the run-down camp 50 kilometers north of the capital Amman is home to around 80,000 Syrian refugees.

Half of the camp’s residents are children, and many have no memory of Syria.

“I was hoping to be at home in my country,” Hadeel said, requesting that a pseudonym be used for security reasons.

“Fate decided that I would be here, get married and give birth to my children here.”

Like most of the refugees in the camp, she and her family came from Syria’s southern Daraa province, the cradle of the 2011 uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The ensuing war killed almost half a million people and displaced about half of the country’s pre-war population.

Hadeel, who is six months pregnant, married a Syrian refugee also living in Zaatari and the couple have two children, aged six and seven.

At least 168,500 Syrian babies have been born in Jordan since 2014, according to the UN, part of an estimated one million children born to Syrians in exile around the world during the same period.

Many are born in overcrowded refugee camps, with limited access to education and at risk of child labor and forced marriage.

– ‘Where is Syria?’ –

Hadeel sat on a red plastic chair in a large hall, awaiting an examination at the camp’s only clinic that delivers babies.

“My children grew up here. When they hear me talking to other women about Syria, they ask me, ‘Mom, where is Syria? Why do we live here?’” said Hadeel.

“I try to explain to them that this is not our country. We are refugees. It’s difficult for them to understand.”

Some 675,000 Syrian refugees are registered with the United Nations in Jordan, but Amman estimates the real number is about twice that and says the cost of housing them has exceeded $12 billion.

While fighting in southern Syria has eased, Hadeel said it’s still not safe enough to return.

Her cousin, who was “tired” of the camp, returned to Syria earlier this year.

He was killed less than a month later and his widow and five children who still live in Zaatari do not know how he died.

“The poor security situation makes us think a thousand times before we go back,” said Hadeel.

– family planning –

The UN Clinic’s maternity ward — the camp’s largest health facility, employing 60 staff including 21 midwives — has 10 beds.

The clinic’s director, Ghada al-Saad, said the facility “operates 24 hours a day and offers everything for free, including medicines, treatments, tests and vaccinations” up to the age of two.

Midwife Amon Mustafa, 58, who has worked there since the camp opened in 2012, takes care of the new mothers.

“We give birth to between five and ten babies every day, with the five today the total number of births in the camp has reached 15,963,” Mustafa said.

“I know most of the women and children in the camp,” she adds, smiling.

Nagham Shagran, 20, holds her newborn son and spent nine years in the camp where she and her cousin got married.

“Initially we were reluctant to have our first child,” she said. “Every human being… has the right to be born and live in his country, but what can we do?”

Mustafa said staff are “trying” to educate women about family planning and contraceptive use, but uptake is limited.

“Children are a blessing, but I hope this will be my last pregnancy,” said Eman Rabie, 28, who is expecting her fourth child. “My husband loves children, he says they are a blessing from God.”

Rabie’s house in Daraa was destroyed during the war.

“If we are asked to leave the camp and return to Syria,” she said, “I will be the last to leave.”

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