War takes its heaviest toll on the most vulnerable—and no one is more vulnerable than children. Syria’s brutal, kaleidoscopic conflict has taken the lives of thousands of kids and forced millions more from their homes. While refugees trying to escape to Europe have dominated the media’s attention in recent weeks, the vast majority of those displaced by the fighting are stranded in the Middle East. Some 2 million Syrian children are living as refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and other nearby countries.
The world’s biggest Syrian refugee camp, Zaatari, sits in the Jordanian desert just south of the Syrian border. Before the war broke out in March 2011, Zaatari was just an empty swath of sand and windblown scrub. Today, it’s a sprawling labyrinth of tents and jury-rigged trailers that houses some 80,000 people. Almost half of them are younger than 11.
Zaatari is a bleak and uncertain place. It’s blazing hot in summer, wet and cold in winter, and largely cut off from the outside world. Grief, anger, and despair are endemic. Not one of its residents wants to be there, but most of them have spent at least two years there. The prospect of returning home is as distant as ever.
The children of Zaatari—about 80 more are born every week—have endured all the horrors their elders have and suffer from the camp’s conditions as much as anyone. Still, as these pictures taken on a recent visit show, even in a place as grim as Zaatari, kids are kids.
This article was created in partnership with TakePart's parent company, Participant Media, in support of the film Beasts of No Nation, produced in part by Participant Media and distributed by Netflix.