02/09/2013 06:54 BST | Updated 02/11/2013 05:12 GMT

Syrian Refugees Just Want to Return to Their Homes... If There's Anything Left of Them

It's a hard thing to imagine, a war zone.... Most adults are unable to work, their children unable to attend school, and it's difficult to afford basics like utilities, water and health care. So they sit in their homes and wait, while children slowly give up on their dreams for the future.

It's a hard thing to imagine, a war zone.

It's hard to imagine a time and place so awful that leaving with nothing is better than staying with everything. In Jordan, buses collect Syrians from the border after they've walked or driven or been dropped far away from their homes. Their next stop is Za'atari refugee camp, a tent and caravan city in the middle of the desert.

The most recent figures put the population at roughly 116,000 people - 60,000 of them are children. The man in charge, UNHCR Senior Field Co-ordinator Kilian Kleinschmidt, readily admits the camp lacks the resources it needs to educate the Syrian children residing there. Only 5000 of them attend school.

"This is a children's emergency," Kleinschmidt says, warning that the world is risking a lost generation of children. In Za'atari's registration area, exhausted refugees huddle close together waiting for their turn to have the UN verify their identities and admit them to the camp.

The process starts in large sheds, the first stop after their border pick-up, where they can eat and sleep before they start moving through the queue that weaves through another building. Finally they end up on wooden benches between portable buildings, waiting their turn. Each section is separated from the others by heavy gates and security guards.

One man sits alone, his downcast face lined with grief and exhaustion. He has no family with him to cling to, instead he is clutching a few small bits of paper. One is his registration form, with details about his identity. The others are tokens that will later be exchanged for food, a tent, maybe bedding. They are his only possessions. When he sees a camera his face switches from abject sorrow to terror. He somehow musters the energy to shake his head vigorously.

A man two seats along translates in broken English. "He thinks... ahh.... You watcher. For troops. He thinks they know, then he die." He finally lets me take a picture of his hands, and when I show him the image is not of his face he smiles and nods, obviously relieved. In another corner a father sits with his son and brother. They walked from Dara to the border and they don't know what they will do now, but they know they are safe.

Everybody here has a reason why they left, had a moment when they knew they could not stay in their homes or their country. For Antar, the moment came when his house was hit with an artillery shell. His four children were playing in the back yard, and his eldest son Mohammad, 12, was hit in the stomach by shrapnel. His eleven-year-old daughter Ala'a was hit in the chest.

He was too scared to take them to a Syrian hospital in case they weren't allowed to leave, so he found a field hospital instead. Mohammad was there for six days, Ala'a for three. When Mohammad was released the whole family - Antar and his wife, Mohammad, Ala'a, and their brothers Taleb, 10, and Zakaria, 4 - set out walking towards Jordan.

When I spoke to them they had been in Za'atari for almost three months, living in tents with just a few clothes and some bedding. Antar is desperate to exchange the tent for a caravan, a sturdier barrier against the wind that howls through Za'atari, regularly whipping up sandstorms.

Only Ala'a is still in school. Mohammad wants to be a doctor, but without an education that dream is futile. No one in Za'atari wants their children to be here, just as none of the other roughly 400,000 refugees living in the community want to be in Jordan. In Irbid, north of Amman, where World Vision supports remedial classes for both Syrian refugees and struggling Jordanian children from host communities, I hear the same thing over and over.

Most adults are unable to work, their children unable to attend school, and it's difficult to afford basics like utilities, water and health care. So they sit in their homes and wait, while children slowly give up on their dreams for the future.

Across the entire region the UN and NGOs such as World Vision are doing what they can in the face of almost overwhelming need, but the magnitude of the problem demands more. As well as the 515,000 refugees in Jordan, there are more than 700,000 in Lebanon. Almost two million people have fled Syria in total.

As for the Syrians in Jordan, they just want to be able to return to their homes - if anything is left of them - and rebuild their lives in a peaceful Syria. But until then, with bombs hurting children playing in their own back yards, life as a refugee in another country is the only option they have.