It's a warm, sunny November afternoon in the dusty Jordanian desert.
In a huge, tin-roofed building, rows of girls and boys stand barefoot on the concrete floor – chubby-cheeked five-year olds alongside tall, composed teenagers.
Most are dressed in immaculate white suits with different coloured belts tied at the waist.
As the Taekwondo class begins, everyone practises their kicks (above), focusing their feet at cushions held chest high by adult teachers. The orderly atmosphere is infused with excitement as more children turn up, creating small pockets of chaos.
The most important things here are the children’s education and manners, and to make friends.
Syria's refugees - the numbers
Syrian refugees now sheltering in the region.
Particularly vulnerable Syrian refugees the UN has identified as needing to settle in another country.
Resettlement places offered globally so far.
Surviving Syria's conflict
We are in a small corner of Zaatari, a vast camp for Syrian refugees run by the Jordanian government and the UN’s refugee agency, UNCHR. Opened in July 2012, it’s now home to more than 80,000 people. Over half are children.
For them, a normal daily life is a distant memory. Many here have lost everything, including the people they love: 190,000 people have been killed since this devastating conflict began.
As it enters its fifth year in March 2015, no one knows when – or if – Syria’s 3.8 million refugees now sheltering in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey can go home.
Meanwhile, thanks to a small South Korean NGO, 150 children in Zaatari camp can keep busy learning a martial art four times a week. Its Taekwondo Academy (ZATA - @ZaatariTA on Twitter) simply sets out to give them hope while they wait for their future to begin.
© Amnesty International (Photo: Richard Burton)
Learning Taekwondo won’t solve the huge problems in this isolated desert city
– poverty, trauma, surviving the winter. But it is a positive contribution that clearly works: the kids here are happy and energetic.
Their seven teachers include Mahmoud, a refugee from Daraa, a Syrian city across the border. “The most important things here are the children’s education and manners, and to make friends,” he says.
Some don’t go to school or have much family, so we bring them here and they behave well.
Resettlement: What Amnesty is pushing for
We want the world’s richest countries to open up to the 10% Syria’s refugees who need it most in 2015 and 2016 – 380,000 people in total. We are targeting the governments of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Denmark, France, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, UK, Uruguay and the USA.
Total number of refugees from Syria
Refugees from Syria now sheltering in Turkey.
Syrian refugees resettled abroad by 30 December 2014.
An uncertain future in Jordan
Tariq and Neda also fled from Daraa. They now live in Irbid, Jordan’s second largest city. Tucked away down a side street, their building’s steep stairs lead to a small third floor flat.
A multitude of shoes outside speak of the 21 people living here: their seven-month old twin daughters, two-year-old son and extended family, all sharing five rooms.
Tariq welcomes us into a sparse living room decorated with brown wallpaper and ochre floor cushions, offering us coffee. While the children play, he tells us that being arrested and tortured in Syria for 24 days felt like 24 years. “They beat me in sensitive areas and burned me with cigarette butts”.
He fled to Jordan in March 2012 and earned enough for his relatives join him. But he lost his job when Jordan’s government started preventing Syrians from working. Now hosting almost 620,000 refugees, the country is feeling the pressure.
They beat me in sensitive areas and burned me with cigarette butts.
Resettlement: a life-changing opportunity
Tariq and Neda feel frustrated and worried, but there is a glimmer of hope: they have been identified by the UNHCR to settle permanently in another country.
Resettlement is a life-changing opportunity open to particularly vulnerable refugees – including torture survivors, people with serious medical conditions, women and children at risk of abuse.
But the process is painfully slow: just 7,737 Syrian refugees had settled abroad by 30 December 2014. Most countries haven’t opened their doors to a single one yet.
We think the world’s wealthiest societies can do more for Syria’s refugees. That’s why our #OpenToSyria campaign is urging their governments to lend countries like Jordan a hand by opening up to those who, like Tariq, need it most.
Resettlement alone won’t solve the Syrian refugee crisis. But like Zaatari’s Taekwondo school, it’s a tangible contribution we can make to help some of those caught up in the worst humanitarian crisis of our time.
This story also appeared under the headline "Alive and Kicking" in the January-March 2015 edition of our global magazine, Wire.
© Amnesty International (Photo: Richard Burton)