Maya* washing her family's clothes in Azraq Refugee Camp, Jordan. Photo by Jenn Hill, World Vision
The return of gunfire to the streets of Paris left many reeling, as the heartache and chaos that gripped the city in January again returned to darken the days of the French capital.
Following the desperate and heartbreaking scenes of the victims and their families and friends, latest police reports indicate eight of the nine alleged attackers who again brought terror to bear on Paris are dead. As history has sadly taught us, there will be those who seek to link refugees and these terrorists, essentially because they come from the same troubled part of the world. There will be those who ask us to turn our backs on refugees because they fear they will bring trouble with them.
But at this time we must fight the urge to systematically dehumanise an entire population. A lack of understanding and yet another birth of fear only serves to fuel further devastating events. Instead, attention should be turned to shedding light on why immigrants and refugees are making the often dangerous trek to safety.
For the people of Syria, this panic and bloodshed underpins their everyday existence. This is why they run for their lives. This is why millions live in overcrowded neighbouring communities, flee to desperately bleak refugee camps, and undertake dangerous passages to Europe. Their homes are simply not safe. Since the latest conflict began nearly five years ago, fighting has reportedly killed 220,000 – 76,000 in the last year alone. That death toll is equivalent to the people of Syria suffering a Paris attack every single day.
Along a stretch of rocky desert in northern Jordan, Azraq refugee camp appears on the unforgiving horizon. Formerly a camp for displaced Iraqis and Kuwaitis during the first Gulf War, it was here last week I met nine-year old Maya*. Originally from Syria, she’s in grade four and hopes to become an engineer. As I spoke to her, she was steadily working her way through her family’s weekly washing. Not in a bucket in a laundry sink, but under a water pump installed at the end of seemingly endless rows of white metal shelters, one of which they now call home.
I asked her how long her family had been in the camp – 18 months. Before that she had been in Amman. Back in Homs, her father had sold medical equipment to hospitals, but with her parents unable to obtain work visas in Jordan they have become reliant on assistance from the World Food Programme to survive. Repeated cuts to this assistance forced them to leave the relative freedom of the country’s capital as her parents became unable to feed her family.
Maya has not seen her home in Homs for three years. I ask her if she would like to return to Syria, “Yes, very much I would like to return to my country”. But then her face which had remained steadfast throughout our meeting began to crumble. I asked what was wrong, she tells me she has no home to return to – it has been “bombed to one million pieces”.
The resolution for Syria is complex and will take far longer than children such as Maya should ever have to endure. But, attacks such as Paris present a time to make a choice: the world can turn its collective backs on children such as Maya, or people can make the decision to uphold humanity and search for peace from bombs and hatred. In the end, surely we must seek for compassion to prevail.
*Name has been changed to protect identity
You can help children like Maya and support the work of the Syria Crisis Response here.
World Vision began responding to the Syria crisis in Lebanon in 2011 and has since expanded operations into northern Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey. Since September 2015, World Vision has been active in providing support for refugees who have fled to Europe. Over the past two months, the global humanitarian agency has worked in Serbia, providing food and non-food items to refugees, as well as child protection services by establishing child-friendly spaces for children and mothers. World Vision has reached over 2 million people in its response to the Syria crisis, including over 70,000 refugees in Serbia.