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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Why I am Smiling In This Picture


One of the reasons I'm smiling so widely in this picture is I'd just been talking to the people in Azraq camp who run the child friendly space it was taken in. They were mostly from UNICEF.

They had explained that when the kids arrived in the camp, only the previous week, they didn't talk or make noise. They were subdued. When they drew pictures, the pictures were of explosions, of severed body parts, of weapons and dead people.

The camp had only been open two weeks. The kids I saw and spoke to were kids – noisy, happy, curious, hilarious, and they showed us their drawings, of butterflies and children and mountains and animals and hearts.

That's what I'm smiling about. That room full of noisy kids was the best place in the world.

I spoke to some of these children, who told me about their lives in Syria during the troubles, about their escape (“there were rocks in the desert, and we had to turn on the headlights to see, but when they turned on the headlights of the car people would shoot at us, and my parents were frightened, but I wasn't...”). For some of them it had been three years since they last went to school.


I made the mistake of reading some of the comments in the Guardian article, and on Twitter, who seemed convinced that me talking about the kids in the camps was a sentimental attempt to take their attention from the real business at hand, which was supporting whichever side in the conflict you already supported loudly and vocally. Obviously, a political crisis that's bad enough to produce refugees is only going to be sorted out politically. But pretending that people hurt, displaced and fleeing are just a vague sort of irritant, that lives wasted or destroyed don't matter, in order to prove your ideological point, whatever it happens to be, is, to my mind, both lazy and foolish and very, very wrong.

(The Guardian article is at http://rfg.ee/x6Kon and the pictures and some extra material at http://rfg.ee/x6Kef)

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