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Child refugees from Syria struggle with harsh life of camps in Jordan

As Syria’s civil war continues, hundreds of thousands of families have fled to neighbouring countries such as Jordan. Life in the refugee camps is proving particularly harsh through the winter months as refugees battle to stay warm.

Mirroring Syria’s youthful demographics and the fact that households generally send their most vulnerable to safety, over two-thirds of camp residents are young children, who are particularly susceptible to the dangers posed by the cold conditions. In one camp alone in Jordan, four babies have died in the past three weeks. Speaking to the Reuters news agency, a spokesperson for Save the Children said the deaths resulted from a number of factors, but admitted that the part played by shortages and the harsh conditions “cannot be ignored”.

And the situation could get worse, since every day more new mothers or pregnant women cross the border to escape the violence. A spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported “every night we are getting children as young as four days old, six days old....and it’s a real struggle to try to make sure that everyone survives”. One charity – the Norwegian Refugee Council – has been flying in thousands of gas heaters for tents.

Since many Syrian women have travelled over the border without their partners, children are also to be found working around the camps in Jordan. A reporter for the IRIN news agency found a twelve year-old boy selling packets of crisps. He told the reporter that he used to enjoy attending school in Syria and reading his textbooks, but now he has to “sell everything in [his] box” before he can go for his lunch.

Many lone mothers are relying on their children to earn money. The children sell anything from cigarettes and sweets, to vegetables and clothes. The extra money is used to supplement family supplies. One mother explained that though the agencies provided basic goods such as tuna, rice and bulgar wheat, she wanted her children to be able to eat “vegetables and fruit”, which is why she sent her son out to work.

The United Nation’s Child Agency (UNICEF) has set up schools in the camps. At one school, around 3,500 pupils from Grade 1 to 11 registered when it was opened in November (though the facilities were only built to accommodate 1,000). But while many families continue to go without the items they need unless extra money is earned, children will continue to work and miss out on their education.

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