THE BLOG

"We Wish Stability Would Return to Syria So We Could Go Back Home"

22/05/2013 13:31 BST | Updated 21/07/2013 10:12 BST

In the year since Domiz refugee camp opened, it has grown to the size of a small city. 40,000 people live here; nearly 40 times the population of the country town Yea, where I grew up in Australia.

Children are everywhere - peering out of tents, giggling and following me around, selling bottles of water, or just calling out the only English phrases they know: 'Hello! How are you! I love you!"

In the camp I met Gulishan, a mother of four children aged 4 to 18 years old, who fled to Iraq just as the camp was opening. She told me back in Syria her husband had been a teacher and she had worked in a beauty salon; they had their own house, the children did well in school ... and none of them had ever slept in a tent before.

When they registered with UNHCR in April last year, they were given a tent, mattresses and blankets, to set up their new home in a grassy field with 300 other families. Over the summer they battled heat, dust, and snakes and scorpions that slithered and crawled on the outside of the tent. Then in December came winter, with rain and flooding in the camp.

In my first two days at Domiz, I got a small taste of the extremes of weather residents like Gulishan have to live with. The first day it was sunny and hot - a hint of the scorching summer to come - but the second day was cold and rainy.

The unpaved roads and paths between tents turned to mud. In moments of stepping out of the car my sneakers were soaked and the mud was up to my ankles. Most of the camp residents I saw were as badly equipped as I, or worse off in open-toed shoes.

Gulishan told me after living in Domiz for over a year, she and her husband have volunteer jobs at the camp, and her three eldest children are back at school. The family has routines and they are happy again, she said. "But we wish stability would return to Syria so we could go back home."

In my new role with UNICEF in Iraq, I will be spending a lot of time at Domiz - and at the new camp planned for Erbil when it opens - talking with Syrian refugees so I can raise awareness and make sure their voices are heard.