Selling packets of crisps under the sun between wind-blown tents at Za’atari refugee camp in northern Jordan, Samir* recalls the days he was able to attend school back in Syria.
“I enjoyed my time when I went to school and read my textbooks,” the 12-year-old told IRIN. “[Here] I am waiting to sell everything in this box before I can get lunch,” he said.
More than half the Syrian refugees in Jordan are under 18, and while the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) does not have any figures, it says it has observed a “tendency” of Syrian children working in Za’atari camp. (It will soon be conducting an assessment of child protection issues in Jordan’s host communities in part to better understand this trend.)
Established in July 80km north of the capital Amman along the border with Syria, the camp is now home to at least 42,000 Syrians. Children there try to sell everything from cigarettes and sweets to vegetables and clothes.
Samir’s mother knows the importance of schooling, but says Samir’s work helps keep them alive.
“We want to live. Look at how we are living in this miserable place. How am I supposed to sponsor children when I am on my own?” she asked. Her husband died in the ongoing conflict in Syria.
Samir’s mother, 32, says she uses her son’s earnings to buy things the “aid agencies did not provide. They only bring us canned tuna, rice, and bulgur wheat. I have children who need to eat vegetables and fruit. We need winter clothing and blankets,” she said.
Samir Badran, UNICEF’s public information officer in Jordan, said some of the working children are the family’s only breadwinners, their fathers either dead or still in Syria.
Nasser Ahmad was wounded during the conflict in Syria and lost one of his legs. He depends on his 15-year-old daughter who he has sent to work as a cleaner at buildings in the camp.
“I cannot support my children and it really breaks my heart to see them like this without good food or clothing. That is why I order vegetables from outside the camp and give them to my children [his boys] to sell,” said the 27-year-old.
Read more of the story here at the IRIN news service:
JORDAN: Syrian child refugees who work – culture or coping mechanism?
Category: Middle East