One day you’re busy sending your kids off to school, planning your eldest daughter’s university applications, teaching your own class of primary pupils and organising dinner in your comfy two-storey home.
Days later you’re in a refugee camp with little more than the clothes you’re wearing. There is nothing left of Samar Hariri’s previous life except for sharp memories and a few precious photos. The house, the cars, her children’s education and so many of her hopes and dreams have been taken by Syria’s brutal civil war.
I met Samar inside Zaatari camp, the world’s second largest refugee camp. Two years ago, Syrian families began arriving in the dusty desert of northern Jordan, fleeing war and persecution in their homeland. Almost overnight, the United Nations was forced to set up a refugee camp and what started as a few tents has now grown into a city of around 100,000 people.
“I always heard the word refugee but I never imagined I would be one. I heard of Palestinian refugees, Iraqi refugees but practically speaking, for me to be one? I could never imagine it until it happened,” Samar says sadly.
Back home, Samar – 46 – was the principal of a primary school and her husband an official in the education department. They had good, prosperous lives. But Samar and her family were forced to flee Syria after they had close family members killed and her husband and eldest son were among the many imprisoned and tortured by the government of Bashar al Assad.
Like many, the Hariri family thought the Assad regime would soon fall and they could return home in a matter of days or weeks. “Before we left we said we will stay ten days, or fifteen, maybe one month at the most. We didn’t expect a long stay here,” Samar’s 12-year-old daughter Dina tells me.
But that was two years ago. They have now become just one family out of 2.8 million Syrian who have fled their homeland in what is the worst refugee crisis the world has seen in over 20 years. Jordan, where Zaatari camp is, currently hosts 600 thousand Syrians, Lebanon over one million, Turkey, 750 thousand and Iraq 200 thousand.
Samar is now doing her best to provide for her children in Zaatari camp. She’s has even been forced to sell all her jewellery to try and make ends meet. But life here is full of challenges. Syrians are not allowed to leave without special permission from the Jordanian police and competition for resources inside is fierce. From standing in line for bread each morning, to flouting the official camp rules to try and build a suitable shelter – this ordinary, middle-class mum is shocked by what her family’s life has become.
“It is hard we used to have such a good life and that all disappeared,” says Samar. “I left out of fear for my children. All the suffering is for them.” Her husband, Abu Diaa, has done his best to flout the rules and build the family a nice shelter but after two years of camping out in the desert they just want to go home. “I tell him I want to go back to Syria now. I can’t take it anymore. He tells me no. It will be ok.”