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Kids at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan suffer deep pyschological scars

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Young Syrians on the first day of school this week at Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan: ‘The behaviour of the students is very aggressive,’ their principal says. ‘They hit each other for no reason. They destroy their school materials.”

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The Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees is a sprawling settlement in the Jordanian desert.

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The children of Zaatari feel anything but secure.

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Girls go to school in the morning, boys in the afternoon.

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Much of the camp sits in sweltering silence broken only by the call to prayer sung five times a day.

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Parts of Zaatari hum with commerce and children at play.

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The sun is relentless, forcing refugees to stay inside as much as possible.

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Safe zones run by organizations such as International Medical Corps (IMC) and Save the Children supplement the schools by providing soccer fields, computer labs, art classes and other after-school activities.

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Children finish their school day.

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How do the girls deal with the boys, who seem so angry and prone to violence? They avoid them.

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The girls are likely to isolate themselves as much as possible.

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A small arcade offers video games for just over 50 cents an hour. There are nine computers, but everyone is playing the same game, Counterstrike, which pits terrorists against counterterrorists.

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The key to rescuing the children will be re-establishing the sense they belong to something, whether a school, a sports or a cogent social order in the camp.

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Zaatari’s desert location is so inhospitable that aid workers were in disbelief when it was initially offered to them.

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Portable classes are surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire.

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Unicef classrooms have only 14,000 spots for 30,000 children.

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The camp is highly unsafe for women. Aid workers suspect violence is widespread within the crowded tents.

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Children take part in different activities at the camp.

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Children take part in different activities at the camp.

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Teachers ask the children to draw pictures of their life in Syria.

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Teachers ask the children to draw pictures of their life in Syria.

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Ottawa native Dominique Hyde, Unicef’s top representative in Jordan, says that, because of the poor fundraising response, “we’re able to do the basics, but that’s it.”

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Soccer games easily turn violent, with team-building and sportsmanship often losing out to pushing, shoving and flying fists.

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Teachers ask the children to draw pictures of their life in Syria.

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“We try to get them involved in activities the best that we can,” says a program officer with the International Medical Corps.

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Aid workers face fierce competition for the hearts and minds of the young refugees.

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The learning environment is far from ideal.

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