From the Abbey to the camp: Downton's Lady Mary spreads Christmas cheer to Syrian refugees of Jordan

Published December 4th, 2013 - 10:52 GMT
Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey's Lady Mary, loves on Syrian refugees in Zaatari. (Image: Facebook)
Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey's Lady Mary, loves on Syrian refugees in Zaatari. (Image: Facebook)

What does the star of a “posh soap” have to do with a refugee camp in Jordan?

A lot.

Michelle Dockery, who plays Lady Mary in the popular British drama series “Downton Abbey” visited Zaatari last month.

In the show she plays an aloof and disdainful aristocrat; in reality she is extremely sensitive and anxious to help relieve the suffering of the refugees.

Dockery will now front up the Christmas appeal for Oxfam, bringing the reality of the crisis in Syria home to millions of people preparing for Christmas in Britain.

She will highlight the need to provide shelter, food and medicine to the families who have fled the violence. The UK’s Department for International Development will match every pound from the public with one from the government, doubling the amount.

Part of Oxfam’s campaign focuses on children. The cold, hard statistics show that 11,500 Syrians under 17 were killed in the conflict, 1 million have become refugees and another million inside Syria are unable to go to school. Such figures are almost impossible to grasp.

The reality is that a whole generation of young Syrians is growing up having seen horrific violence, their relatives killed or maimed. They have been forced to flee to another country, often separated from their parents, to live in a tent and in many cases to miss school.

For this reason, the UK is launching the £30 million Lost Generation Initiative to provide protection, trauma care and counselling to these children.

Other cold, hard statistics are equally unfathomable: over 100,000 people killed, over 9 million in need of help inside Syria and over 2 million refugees in neighbouring countries.

The reality can only be brought home by visiting and talking to the refugees.

Last month we took our new Minister Hugh Robertson to Zaatari camp. We met Syrians who described how they had made their way to Jordan after having been bombed out of their houses.

Sitting in a tent, we met Samer from Deraa, with his wife and daughters, who described how the Syrian army had destroyed their farm and killed the livestock they depended on.

Another harsh reality is that their tent is going to be uncomfortably cold during winter, especially when the temperatures get down to zero.

The United Nations provides blankets and bedding. Families in the West, gathering by the fire or settling down to Christmas dinner, should spare a thought for the hardships families like Samer’s are undergoing.

Robertson also visited the Jordanian towns that are hosting almost 500,000 Syrians. Again, the reality behind the number is stark. In towns like Mafraq, the population has doubled and the municipality can no longer keep the streets clean; there are schools where Jordanian pupils have to attend for only half the day to make way for the Syrian students in the afternoon; and Jordanian mothers who have to go to Amman to give birth because all the beds are occupied by Syrians.

The UK recognises the burden that Jordanian citizens and people in other neighbouring countries, like Lebanon, are carrying and has been at the forefront of the humanitarian response. We have given half-a-billion pounds, the largest total sum the UK has ever committed to a single crisis.

Over £100 million has been allocated to Jordan, including to help municipalities like Mafraq.

Next week will mark 1,000 days of the conflict in Syria. That is 1,000 days too many.

For the sake of all the innocent victims who have been targeted by the regime, killed or forced to flee, it is time to end the bloodshed and find a peaceful solution to the crisis.

That is the reality that Dockery will present to support Oxfam’s campaign.

This is far away from any fantasy drama about nobility struggling to survive in 20th century Britain. It is more of a reality show that brings to light the suffering of ordinary people.

We have no choice but to help them.

The writer is British ambassador to Jordan. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.


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