By Isabel Hunter
SURUÇ, Turkey, 9 October 2014 – Crammed into old classrooms, with mattresses strewn on the floor, Syrine and her two sisters are in high spirits.
Last month, the triplets and their mother fled the conflict in the Syrian city of Ayn al-Arab, also known as Kobane, to the safety of Turkey. Today they are more concerned with their turn to play in UNICEF’s newly erected child-friendly space.
The family is just one of more than 3,000 Syrian refugees being given assistance by AFAD, Turkey’s Ministry of Health, the Turkish Red Crescent and UNICEF at a disused school in Suruc.
Approximately 80% of the newly arrived refugees at the school are children. More than 180,000 Syrians have fled to Turkey since mid-September when villages and towns in northern Aleppo province and the town of Ayn al-Arab saw an increase fighting.
Many of the newly arrived families have found refuge within the host community, but a significant number are alone without financial support or a place to stay.
In the large white tent, adorned with cartoon characters, groups of children play party games in the UNICEF Child Friendly Space, in cooperation with the Turkish Red Crescent.
With the boys lined up on one side, and the girls queuing up to play on the other, all eyes were on the competitors and who could most effectively use their balloon to knock down the empty cups.
Outside, swarms of children gather, eagerly waiting with their new friends to be the next group to get in to play.
Unable to contain her excitement 8-year old Syrine sits on a step with her new pal, 9-year-old Amal.
“We want to play with Lego,” she says. “We’ve waited for two days to get inside and now they say we only have 15 minutes to wait. We’ll build a big tower. If we all work together, we will build the biggest and best one.”
The Child Friendly Spaces, while run by Turkish Red Crescent youth workers, are facilitated entirely by UNICEF. Approximately 400 children have already registered, with each group numbering 20.
UNICEF Field Coordinator Hakki Ersoy was on hand when the Child Friendly Space first opened. He says, “The child friendly spaces are not a replacement for education, they’re purely for recreation and are extremely important. Children who have witnessed extreme trauma need a place where they can focus on play. Often they are surrounded by adults who continue to talk about what has happened, which can have a very negative impact on children. Their coping mechanisms are not as strong.”
Ersoy adds, “We want to provide a normal atmosphere and help them escape from their traumatic experiences.”
Syrine came to Suruc with her mother Lamia and her sisters Lozivan and Niruz. The girls share identical short haircuts and the same mischievous glint in their eyes.
Lozivan and Syrine share a very special bond as they are identical. “If Syrine gets sick, Lozivan will get sick also — they share everything,” says their mother, Lamia.
“We love each other so much and play together all the time,” adds Lozivan.
The family have already had to leave home once — having fled fighting in Damascus and now to Turkey from Ayn Al-Arab.
“We were in third grade and now we just want to go back to school,” Syrine says. Her favourite subjects are Arabic and Maths. Now the wiry child just wants to learn Turkish.
“I want to be grown up already so I can work to earn money,” says Syrine. “So now I just need to learn Turkish.” Syrine already seems years older than her age. “We like to play with toys but there aren’t enough for everybody here. Our favorite is to play with dolls, but we don’t have any,” she adds.
While the vast majority of the schools occupants are children, Syrine and her sister resent the large numbers adults always watching what they get up to. The constant supervision leaves little time for mischief. “We don’t like to be with the adults because they are so many people watching us,” says Syrine when asked the worst thing about the makeshift camp.
Her mother laughs at this. “My children are smart enough to get by,” smiles Lamia.