Pictured: Miranda stands outside Azraq refugee camp in Jordan
March the 15th is the sixth anniversary of the Syrian war. What does that mean? What has the war caused?
When I visited the Azraq refugee camp, I felt like I could see what this war has done. I could see it in people’s eyes. They say eyes are the gateway to the soul, and I think it’s true. You can see them light up, glisten, and glower.
Miranda and her fellow Youth Ambassadors visit a family in their home in Azraq
But the eyes I saw on so many of the children in this refugee camp were drained of light. There was nothing behind them. There was no expression in their faces, the fear and shock of the war had left nothing. Their eyes stared through everything because emotionally they can no longer engage.
At times I stood there wishing that children would cry – show some emotion – that anything would be better than nothing. Sadness, relief, innocence, anger, anything. For when a child has lifeless eyes that is when you know they have lost their childhood.
The next set of eyes that caught me were the eyes of a father. He sat with his little boy in his lap and told us about Syria. They would hide in the middle of their house, huddled together away from snipers, praying there would be no air raids that night. One day he was shot in the shoulder, but he was lucky he said, the sniper was aiming for his heart. That was when they knew they had to leave. When it no longer became safe outside or inside their home.
Shivers flew down my spine as his wife said: “we no longer fear death.” Her eyes repeated the words to me. It was far worse to hear someone was missing than to hear they were dead. I cannot begin to imagine the hell that must have had become their daily to cause people to fear life more than death.
She and the children left for the safety of Jordan while their father stayed behind, the reason unclear, so we asked what it was like for him. What were the things he had to go through? And we watched. His confidence broke away, he sat in meditation trying to suppress the memories, but heartbreak glazed his eyes. He did not answer, but he did not need to, for his eyes said it all.
He left the tent.
After some time the father walked back in and said to us “sorry but I cannot try remember, it is better if it stays forgotten."
Four years have passed for him, and the trauma of escaping is still alive in his mind. To have to live each day avoiding this memory would make every day a challenge.
Azraq camp houses stretch endlessly into the landscape
This family now lives in a white tent like the other 50,000 people in Azraq refugee camp. Though they have left the war behind, the war has not left them. They are not free. The father I met was in the psychological chains of war. Mentally the war still held him, and physically he and his family were stuck in Azraq camp. They are not alone.
The last sets of eyes are those of beauty and life. Those of the children who were still full of hope. Given an opportunity to forget what they had witnessed their eyes lit up again. They played football, built sandcastles, laughed and danced and sung. They smiled and their eyes smiled back up at me.
The resilience of children is incredible, but their lives shouldn’t fit just in a tent, they shouldn’t have to be resilient. There is more to life than that. We have the power to act on this, and to try to uphold the basic principles of human rights, and child rights. That is our responsibility, and witnessing people and governments not trying to help is what terrifies me.
What has six years of war caused?
Six years of war has caused faces to become numbers. To the extreme that the victims of the Syrian war have to remind us that they are people. This is what breaks my heart.
I am an ambassador and have been given an opportunity to speak on behalf of the people I met. When asked what they would like to say to the people of New Zealand, the families we spoke to all said “We are human. We are people just like you, there is no difference – just our situation.”
- Miranda, 2017 World Vision and Sanitarium Youth Ambassador