ZAATARI CAMP, Jordan – At this sprawling desert camp in Jordan, home to thousands of children who fled Syria’s civil war, a few found a moment to smile Sunday watching a troop of clowns.
Five European comedians working for Mabsutins, a private circus and clown group in Spain affiliated with the U.S.-based group Clowns Without Borders, performed for some 60 children. More than 100,000 people live at the wind-swept camp, only 10 miles from the Syrian border, and for the children lucky enough to see the performance, it helped them forget about the challenges they face.
“It was best thing I have seen in my life,” said 10-year-old Rana Ziad, who fled from her restive southern border town of Daraa with her parents and six brothers and sisters a year ago. “It was very much fun and I loved it.”
More than two million Syrians have fled their country’s civil war, now in its third year, seeking shelter in neighboring countries. At least half of the refugees – 1.1 million – are children. Of those, some 75 percent are under the age of 12, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
A 65-page report issued Friday by the UNHCR highlighted the plight of the children, who are growing up in fractured families, missing out on education as they turn to manual labor, sometimes under dangerous or exploitative conditions. Many become the main breadwinner of their family. At Zaatari, most of the 680 small shops employ children, the report said.