Jemima Khan in New Statesman:
Zaatari camp in Jordan is a chalky pop-up city and temporary holding pen for the collateral damage from Syria’s civil war; 80,000 refugees, mostly women and children, existing in orderly limbo. Most left Syria on foot, in the dark, with only the clothes they were wearing and – if their house was not already pulverised – their door keys and documents. I have met many refugees since I started working with Unicef 13 years ago and regardless of nationality, disaster or host country, they all share one thing in common – the knowledge that they are the world’s unwanted; bereft of home, hope, possessions and expression. It was an encounter with a child refugee that first led to my involvement with Unicef. I was distributing tents to Afghan refugees who had fled civil war at the Jalozai camp in Peshawar, north-west Pakistan. It had been nicknamed “Plastic City” because its inhabitants were living in plastic bin liners during the monsoon season, with no shelter, food, water or sanitation. The Pakistani government, its resources already stretched and with resentment still high from the last influx of Afghans during the Soviet era, had refused to allow aid agencies access to the camp.
A small, emaciated boy in dust-coloured rags was bent double under the weight of a 25-kilogram tent. I told him to go and get an adult to help him. He explained that his mother had just died in the camp and his father had been killed in the fighting. He had no adult relatives and he was now the head of the household, responsible for the survival of his five younger siblings, including a small baby. He was seven years old, just a few years older than my eldest son at that time, who was still incapable of even running a bath unsupervised. His story, I learned, was far from unique.