DOWNTON ABBEY star Michelle Dockery travelled to Syria with Oxfam last month to meet refugees living in Jordan. As the charity launches its Syrian Winter Appeal today, the actress shares her experiences and personal photo album from what was a truly moving trip.
“Every day there is another story about the Syrian conflict. However, little is known of the millions of refugees who have had to quite literally run from their homes as bombs bear down on them. I wanted to meet these people, hear their stories and understand the life they came from and the life they now live in.
On my first day, I visited Zaatari camp on the outskirts of Amman near the Syrian border. Zaatari is one of the biggest formal camps, this time last year a sprinkling of tents, now the fourth largest city in Jordan. This is a bleak place bang in the middle of the desert, boiling in the summer and below freezing in the winter. I met three families on the camp, mainly women who willingly told me their stories, a relief to share the terrible burdens and trauma they carry so closely. Many of these women came from wonderful and full lives back in Syria, with beautiful homes, wonderful neighbours and family all around them. Their children in education with bright futures ahead, the same children who now run around with the clothes they fled in. Life on camp is hard, there is little to do each day, nothing changes and there is no end in sight.
The second day we visited a family in the host communities. These are refugees living in rented accommodation outside the formal camps. Many people have fled literally with nothing; they have no money and are unable to work. The family I met had ten people living in a flat suited for three. The conditions were shocking. I met small boy, who had been severely unwell due to the damp on the walls. As I heard the heart-breaking stories from his mother, he coughed, clinging onto her.
Our lives go on but the people I met remain, stuck in a no man’s land, unsure of when they will be able to reunite with their family, or go back to their beloved homeland. None of the people I met would have ever thought they would need to ask for help but now they have no choice. They have nothing and they need help to be able to survive day by day. Its winter now and it will be freezing. I think of the cold concrete flats, the make shift tents and how cold it must be at night. They need blankets, they need stoves, they need clothes and we can help Oxfam supply this.”