Caught between football and a hard place: Syrian children inside and outside the camp
Syran refugee children at Zaatari camp awaiting their turn to play football at a workshop organized by Brazilian coaches (Al Bawaba)
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A curious mix of Brazilian Portuguese and Levantine Arabic is whizzing round a football pitch.
"Yalla Yalla", the Brazilians shout out with their smidgeon of Arabic, whilst every few seconds another yells
However, this is not just any old football match. Nor is the venue a gigantic football stadium filled with thousands of seats.
In fact, this is a refugee camp. More precisely, it is Zaatari Refugee camp in Jordan, the second largest of its kind in the world.
The small, dry pitch has been split up into sections, with several kids in scruffy t -shirts and sweatpants playing a small match. Meanwhile, another pocket of players are practicing their shooting skills, passes and dribbling.
Three weeks ago, a group of Fifa-qualified Brazilian football coaches pitched up at Zaatari to conduct intensive football workshops for over a hundred young football fanatics and a handful of Syrian coaches.
14-year-old Bashia is from Busul Haarin, which lies in Syria's Daraa province and has many of its former residents living in Zaatari. Bashia, who has been at Zaatari since last Ramadan and is sporting the Brazil national team shirt, has been grinning ecstatically all morning. "I want Brazil to win the World Cup", he says. "I am really happy: the coaches trained us, taught us new things, I've learnt how to play better". His dream, he says, is to become a goalkeeper.
Last week marked Zaatari's first anniversary. In just a year, the camp has grown exponentially, with a population now exceeding 120,000, according to official estimates.
Since it opened, Zaatari has drawn the attention of the world's media, with high level delegation visits and the odd Hollywood celebrity making an appearance.
One benefit of being in the limelight is that projects and activities in the camp, such as this football workshop, are relatively plenty.
However less well-known is that over 70 per cent of Jordan's Syrian refugees have chosen to move into local towns and villages, rather than the designated camps. By living independently, these refugees hope to get better jobs and secure better living conditions.
However refugees are not permitted to work legally in Jordan and often cannot afford the local rates of accommodation.
With World Bank Chief Jim Yong Kim stating that by the end of 2013 there will be one Syrian for every six Jordanians, the country’s public services are faltering under the stress of this population boom. As a result, Syrian refugee children are frequently turned away from overcrowded schools.
So far, only 45,000 out of the 291,000 refugees registered outside of the camps have recieved UNHCR funding assistance. The amounts on offer are small, ranging from JD50 to JD120, with budget constraints limiting the ability to expand the cash programme further.
ACTED, a Paris-based emergency relief organization which has a huge presence at Zaatari, currently assists just over 15,000 people in Jordan's host communities - a mere fraction of those in need.
Zaatari's high visibility- and the amount of money it sucks up - has caused some concern amongst aid agencies.
"Syrians in the camp have better access to services than those in host communities", says Saba Mobaslat, Director of Save the Children Jordan. "We have to bear in mind that some of those in host communities are not registered with UNHCR and may not wish to register for political reasons. This means that they do not have full access to basic services like food vouchers, public education, protection services and health".
Still, if refugees are successfully able to integrate into local life, the long-term benefits can be rewarding. On the other hand life at a refugee camp can often feel like one interminable wait; a life put on hold.
Back at the Zaatari football workshop, such hardships themselves have been put on hold. The children are busy being children, showing off, running around, kicking balls about. Then, out of nowhere, cries of "Brazil! Brazil!" and "Souria! Souria!" can be heard - the chants of those children on the side of the pitch biding both their time to play - and the moment they can return home, to Syria.
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