First Person

Downton Abbey Star on Syria’s lost generation: ‘They will not get this time back’

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Michelle Dockery meets children in a tented settlement in Jawa in the southeast of Amman where many Syrian refugee families are living. Photo: Abbie Trayler Smith/Oxfam

British newspaper the Daily Mail published a moving interview this past Sunday with Downton Abbey star Michelle Dockery speaking about the Syria refugee crisis. Dockery, who plays Lady Mary on the hugely popular PBS Masterpiece show, spent time in Jordan recently visiting with Syrian refugees.

Dockery was understandably overwhelmed by the sight of thousands of innocent children and stories of despair from Syrian families. Through the eyes of Um Hani, a 37-year-old mother of eight, Dockery recounts her experience to the Mail:

 On my second day in Jordan, I visited refugees living in ‘host communities’ on the outskirts of Amman. Many people here had initially been in Zaatari but then moved out to rented accommodation in Amman. But renting is costly – too costly – and the living conditions are shocking. … Um Hani said she feared for her children’s health and wellbeing in the coming winter as they had no access to medical care. Her sister-in-law, whose foot was blown off when her house in Syria was bombed, also lives with her. She wanted to show me her leg. It was shocking – covered in bedsores and the amputation was badly inflamed. She has to be carried from room to room and she can’t sleep because of the pain.

In the afternoon, I visited the ‘informal settlements’ – shanty town-style tents – in nearby Jawa. Here, refugees have set up makeshift camps in a barren area that can only be described as an abandoned building site. There were children everywhere …

The conflict in Syria has claimed more than 100,000 lives, rendered nearly 7 million homeless and is threatening to destabilize the entire region, including the places in Jordan that Dockery visited. Last week, millions of Syrians crying out for peace received a shred of good news when peace talks were announced for late January 2014. But as we wait for talks to begin, millions of Syrians are in need right now. Thousands of Syrian families are in the grips of a long, bitter winter with no end in sight. Many are cold, hungry and jobless. As winter descends, widespread hunger, malnutrition and disease are feared inside Syria as well as in refugee communities in the region. Innocent children will be among the hardest hit unless we act today.

Michelle with the 6 month old daughter of 26-year-old Abu Bassel and his 26-year-old wife Um Bassel.

Dockery brings attention to these kids in her Mail piece. She tells us of their aspirations and their hope for a brighter future.

 I realised that what all these children needed was attention and expressions of affection and love. They were sad, bewildered and lonely. They missed their friends, their teachers, their homes. I found it difficult to comprehend what was happening to them. … What sort of future do they face now? Towards the end of my second day there, the teacher asked some children what they wanted to be when they grew up. Each one answered clearly, and with pride:

‘A pharmacist.’

‘A doctor.’

‘A teacher.’

‘A farmer.’

Oxfam is on the ground in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, delivering life-saving essentials, and we’re making great progress thanks to our supporters. Inside Syria, Oxfam and local water boards are now delivering safe, clean water to an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 people. Overall, we’re helping a half-million people affected by the Syria crisis across Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. We aim to reach 650,000 by the end of March 2014. Join us today. Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+