On the eve of President Trump signing an executive order on immigration, I lay here awake, silently screaming for the Syrian children. What will become of the hundreds of children I met recently at the Zaatari camp in Jordan whose hopeful eyes searched my own for answers? Unable to return home because of a war that has stretched more than 5 years, where will they go if we turn our back on them? How do I make the world understand that these children are much like our own, with the same hopes and dreams of a brighter future?
As a pediatrician, I pledged my life to advocate for the well-being of children, regardless of race, gender, class, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. So here I am, at 2 a.m., begging for the world to not forget about the Syrian children.
Perhaps many are unaware that 58 percent of the population at the Zaatari camp in Jordan is children. This camp holds the largest number of Syrian refugees and is the second largest camp in the world. I had the opportunity to meet many of these children recently on a medical mission with the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), an extraordinary nonprofit organization that has worked on the front lines of crisis relief in Syria and neighboring countries since the beginning of the war.
At first, those I met reminded me of children back home, the streets ringing with laughter, the joy when presented with stickers. And yet so many of these children are aware that home is not the metal caravan they have been living in nor is the playground a patch of dirt enclosed by wired fencing. What was meant to be a temporary housing option graciously created by the Jordanian government in cooperation with the UN, has now turned into the only home many of these children have ever known. Still, they try desperately to live normal lives despite the extraordinary circumstances they are in. And yet, the laughter cannot hide the 7-year-old who has yet to speak or the 10-year-old who wets the bed every night.
Signs of PTSD are high amongst the children residing in these camps. Having been exposed to high levels of trauma while in Syria and with poor access to mental health care even the pictures they draw depict the death and destruction they have faced.
The Jordanian government has tried to provide structure for the refugee children by educating them and often diving the schools in two, with Jordanian children attending in the morning and Syrian children in the afternoon. However, a country with limited resources itself struggles to accommodate the growing number of refugee children that reside in the camps. Without an education, these children are left vulnerable to early marriage, child labor, and military recruitment.
As a pediatrician searching for ways to protect these children, I found solace in organizations such as SAMS who continue to strive to improve the condition of the Syrian people. But reading the headlines today, I hear the voice of a mother who as I was leaving said, “Please don’t forget us; there is no one else.”
So I am left pondering in the middle of the night, that when we took the Hippocratic oath to do no harm will we be held accountable for our silence and inaction during the worst humanitarian crisis of our time.
Henna Qureshi is a pediatrician.
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