Chapter II: Camp


"Tell him," says the father. "Explain to this man why we are here."

"Missiles," says the daughter, aged 4.

This conversation takes place in the Syrian refugee camp of Zaatari, in Jordan. The little girl doesn’t even look away from her games when she speaks. She smiles sweetly and says the word so matter-of-factly that you immediately understand just how routine missiles and bombs have been for millions of Syrians – those who are still in the country and those who have managed to escape.

Zaatari is now one of the largest refugee camps in the world. In early 2016, it was home to 80,000 people. It is basically a city. Shops sell clothes and food, workshops repair bicycles. One long street has already been named – ironically, perhaps – "Champs Elysees." Another is "Fifth Avenue."

A shop in the refugee camp in Zaatari. | ANNA Surinyach


In this camp, the only hospital with an inpatient program is the one managed by MSF. It has 40 beds. It was once a paediatric hospital, but it now serves as a centre for war wounded who have had surgery and need rehabilitation. "Sometimes many wounded people from the same Syrian neighbourhood suddenly arrive, because there has been an attack," says Layaly Gharaybeh, who supervises the nursing work. "Many of the people we see here will be disabled for the rest of their lives. Some accept it, others don’t."

It is amazing to see the number of wheelchairs circulating not only in the hospital, but all over the camp. And yet, even some of those who can no longer walk want to return to Syria. Because they are alone here. Because their family was left behind.

Hassan (not his real name) is wearing a grey hooded tracksuit. He is 15 years old. He nervously moves his wheelchair forward and backwards. "Four months ago, I was at a funeral and they dropped a barrel bomb," he says. "I don’t remember anything more after that." Hassan suffered injuries to his leg and his left side. He has lost sight in one eye, but the doctors are optimistic that he will one day be able to walk again.


Hassan was wounded in an airstrike and is now recovering in an MSF clinic in Jordan. | ANNA Surinyach

"When he arrived he was depressed," says Amani al Mashaqba, who provides psychosocial support at the hospital. "He couldn’t speak because of the attack. It was hard for him. He didn’t want to communicate with me for a month. His cousin helped, and after a lot of work, he began to improve and started to interact with people."


Hassan hopes to walk again. | ANNA Surinyach


What pains Hassan most is being away from his home and his family. It’s a fact he keeps repeating.  "We used to play football in a yard behind my house. Some were from Manchester United and others from Real Madrid," he recalls while continually sliding his hand over his wheelchair, as if he would like to kick a ball.

"My family sends photos to my mobile phone, but that isn’t enough. What is a person without his family?" he asks. Hassan says he wants to be with them. And he says that when he recovers, if they have not been able to come to Jordan, he will return to Syria on his own and meet up with them. When he can walk, he’ll walk back to Syria.