'Illiterate and angry' - a lost generation

July 25, 2013 02:19 pm | Updated November 16, 2021 11:06 pm IST - Zaatari, Jordan

A Syrian refugee boy stands watches from the Zaatari refugee camp near the Syrian border, in Mafraq, Jordan.

A Syrian refugee boy stands watches from the Zaatari refugee camp near the Syrian border, in Mafraq, Jordan.

In Zaatari, on July 22, the day that Britain welcomed a new future king, another 12 newborn babies joined the swollen population of the Zaatari camp in Jordan.

They face a grim future. Syria’s civil war is taking more of a psychological toll on the young than most other conflicts, child specialists say, warning of a new “angry and illiterate” lost generation.

More than half of the 1.8 million refugees to have left Syria are children and two and a half years of ever-worsening war has deprived most of education, shattered societal and family ties and caused unprecedented levels of untreated stress among the most vulnerable of refugees.

“They are full of anger”, the UN’s special representative for children and armed conflict, Leila Zerrougi said. “And if it continues, we will face a generation of illiterates.” In Jordan’s Zaatari camp, by far the largest regional refugee hub, Unicef child protection specialist Jane MacPhail said the young who had fled Syria were displaying levels of violence that were unusual even in societies exposed to prolonged levels of trauma.

“Many of the kids we are seeing have been through an immense amount”, she said. “They’re in total survival mode, they don’t feel pain or hunger, they are focusing on instant needs and they’ve lost their ability to control impulse. When you have experienced so much, there is part of the system that goes, ‘I am just going to switch off for a while.’ Soon that little while becomes a long time.” Ms. MacPhail, who has worked in Liberia, the Philippines, and Indonesia, among other places, before arriving in Jordan, said the sheer scale of brutality in Syria had caused chronic damage to children and also to parents.

She added, “All we can do for now is help them with ways to reconnect. That means lots of listening, understanding, care and love.” © Guardian News Service

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