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Syria’s Young Refugees Live in Fear and Yearn to Return to Syria

65% of Syrian children living in Jordan’s refugees camps do not feel safe. The children aged 12-18 are afraid of being arrested, being sexually abused or kidnapped. 35% of young people surveyed by International Medical Corps also reported they are afraid of bombs and airplanes from the Syrian war reaching them in Jordan.

99% of the young people interviewed wished that they could return to Syria.

In Syria, beginning in early 2011, political protests and the government’s response created an insecure environment causing families to flee. 116,000 Syrian refugees now live in the Za’atari refugee camp, with around 53% of those refugees being under 18 years old. In August 2012, International Medical Corps and UNICEF conducted a rapid mental health assessment in the camp to identify the mental health, psychosocial and protection needs of young people there.

The assessment found that young men and boys are struggling with their aggression, were prone to disturbing others in the camp and often felt bored. They were most worried about their disrupted education and financial hardship. Young women and girls reported feeling unsafe, bored, and isolated in tents. They were most worried about early marriage, having their education disrupted, fear for their safety, and guilt for leaving others behind.

76% of the young people surveyed were not attending school and 71% admitted that they dealt with their anxiety by ‘withdrawing’ or hiding themselves away within the camp.

Zeinab Hijazi, International Medical Corps’ mental health and psychosocial officer, providing technical support in the region, said, “The situation for young people in Za’atari camp is incredibly difficult. Many have been exposed to traumatic events inside Syria or on their way to seeking refuge in Jordan. They have left their homes and often left behind family members whom they can no longer contact. Their parents are also adjusting to their new circumstances in the camp, which is not set up to make children feel safe. It is no surprise that we are seeing such high levels of anxiety and stress amongst these young people.”

The assessment also included interviews with parents of young people in the camp, revealing the challenges they face in taking care of their children’s emotional needs. A mother taking part in a focus group in Za’atari, commented, “Both we and the kids are scared when we see planes – we get flashbacks. Kids see weapons and they know the names of each weapon because they’ve seen so many. We want to protect our kids before ourselves – now I can’t give them anything. We keep thinking about what happened in Syria and it’s hard to joke and play.”

The assessment will be used by International Medical Corps and other humanitarian agencies to improve the mental health, psychosocial and adolescent protection services available to Syrian refugees living in Jordan.