Jordi Matas/UNCHR

No one is born a refugee, no one is born a war victim, no one wants to live as either of those things.

Last week, I met with Syrian refugees in both the camps and the towns and cities of Jordan to learn more about how they are coping with the ongoing crisis.  What has struck me is the immense tragedy of their arrested development. When these young people were forced to flee the country that they love so fervently they were at the peak of their lives, when a young person wants to be productive and carve out a career and a future for themselves.

I have met a¬†number of impressive young adults over the past couple of days ‚Äď from the ‚ÄėMalala of Syria‚Äô, the¬†exceptionally articulate 16 year old Muzoon, a fierce advocate for education; to Hamza, physically¬†disabled, yes, but eminently capable; to the members of refugee music and art groups, former¬†university students all, whose studies were rudely and cruelly interrupted by war, and who now¬†occupy the long, repetitive days in camp by coming together and serving their community through¬†cultural and educational outreach programs.

"It was a privilege to meet this extraordinary young woman, Muzoon, who is affectionately known as the Malala of Azraq. She is a tireless advocate for education who counts Malala Yousafzai as one of her friends having met her when she visited Jordan in 2014. Muzoon wrote a short profile of Malala for TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2015. This is the first time she has seen any of her work in print."
Jordi Matas/UNHCR

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"The busiest artery in Zaatari refugee camp, filled with shops, beauty salons and restaurants run by Syrian refugee entrepreneurs. The camp residents affectionately refer to the street as the Champs √Člys√©es.‚ÄĚ
Jordi Matas/UNHCR
"I am learning about patient triage at the Jordan Health Aid Society (JHAS) clinic funded by UNHCR. The clinic is one of five clinics in Zaatari camp in Jordan that currently houses over 80,000 Syrian refugees."
Jordi Matas/UNHCR

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"I had the pleasure of hanging out with a Syrian refugee youth group that has formed a band performing socially conscious music that addresses child labor, forced marriage etc. The group also works with disabled youth in the camp."
Jordi Matas/UNHCR
"These are members of the Syrian youth group who performed the traditional Levantine dance called Dabke for us. I gave it a go but couldn’t quite master the shoulder shimmy."
Jordi Matas/UNHCR

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"Azraq refugee camp is a flat monochromatic expanse of land where wind and dust are a daily fact of life."
Jordi Matas/UNHCR
"This is a literacy class for Syrian refugee women in Madaba, outside Amman. The students ranged in age from teens to, in one case, a rather remarkable 70 year old woman who daily takes two cars and two buses to reach the community centre where the class is taught. "
Jordi Matas/UNHCR

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"This young mother of 8 is a beneficiary of the UNHCR cash assistance program funded through the Lifeline Appeal. Here she is getting her iris scanned by the ATM machine in order to withdraw her monthly cash allowance. This small stipend is a life-saving intervention for her and the fourteen other members of her family."
Jordi Matas
"This is Um Sufian, an extraordinary Jordanian woman who volunteers for the Princess Basma Community Centre. She has made it a mission to help Syrian refugees. She has almost single-handedly saved at least two families that I have met from homelessness.."
Jordi Matas/UNHCR

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"Hassan is the 75 year old head of a family of 15 who live in a 4 room basement on the outskirts of Amman. He told me that he built a life for his children in Syria and he intends to build one for his grandchildren in Jordan. But it is a challenge and the family has a home only because the monthly cash support his daughter receives from UNHCR."
"Um Anas is a forty three year old mother who crossed the border into Jordan 10 months ago with her 7 children, 2 of whom are severely disabled physically. They have been struggling to cope with life as refugees in Jordan as Um Anas is the sole carer for her children so is unable to go out and find work. She cannot afford to send the children to school, she can barely afford the rent of their one room flat, and for the past few months the family have only been able to eat two meals a day consisting of bread and olives for breakfast and bread dipped in tea for supper. Um Anas and her family are at serious risk of homelessness and having to resort to high risk coping mechanism. UNHCR’s cash assistance program (funded by the Lifeline Appeal) is designed to help extremely vulnerable families exactly like this."

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In 2014 I visited the Syrian refugee camps of Northern Iraq in my role as Goodwill Ambassador for¬†UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency.¬† Only one year on, and the conflict in Syria has produced a further¬†one million refugees resulting in the ‚Äėmega crisis‚Äô (as named by UNHCR High Commissioner, Antonio¬†Guterres) of a total Syrian refugee population of over 3.9 million.

They do not want to be a burden, they are trying their very best to maintain the course of their lives the best they can.  It is a universal human need to have dignity and feel useful.  It is an ordinary human desire that is being put through an extraordinary test.

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Khaled Hosseini is the author of The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and the forthcoming And The Mountains Echoed.

In 2006, Hosseini was named a Goodwill Envoy to UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency. Inspired by a trip he made to Afghanistan with the UNHCR, he later established The Khaled Hosseini Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which provides humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan. He lives in Northern California.