Sunday 31 August 2014

'Running out of fear, the girls in the camp had lost everything'

Model Roz Purcell talks about her experiences in the Azraq Syrian refugee camp in Jordan

Model Roz Purcell who is a World Vision ambassador meeting Syrian refugees on her visit to the newly opened Azraq camp in Jordan. Picture by David Conachy.
Model Roz Purcell who is a World Vision ambassador meeting Syrian refugees on her visit to the newly opened Azraq camp in Jordan. Picture by David Conachy.
Model Roz Purcell, who is a World Vision ambassador meeting Syrian refugees on her visit to the Azraq camp in Jordan. Picture: David Conachy
Model Roz Purcell, above, who is a World Vision ambassador meeting Syrian refugees on her visit to the Azraq camp in Jordan

The humanitarian crisis in Syria, which is now in its third bloody year, with millions having fled the civil war for their lives, left the 23-year-old model from Clonmel in Co Tipperary in complete shock.

Roz remembers one young woman she and Sunday Independent Photographic Editor David Conachy went to see one day in the camp.

"She was there with her husband, who had been in prison in Syria – and he showed us all the scars he had from being tortured," she says.

"It was absolutely horrendous to hear his story and how he and his family had to flee. His wife had half her face taken off in an explosion. She couldn't leave the hut in the refugee camp. It was awful.

"Her husband had these scars all along his head from electric shocks," she says.

"I might seem really naive but I just didn't think any of that happened.

"We tend to become really de-sensitised by all this, because we hear these stories so much but when you see it first hand it does really shock you that little bit more."

"There was a 23-year-old woman we met who had just come to the refugee camp with her husband and they had a young kid," Roz adds.

"They knew no one and they were all alone. She was someone my own age. She told me that she had a completely normal life before – and then everything was taken away from her. She was living in a shed with her young child and her new husband."

That young woman and hundreds of thousands of Syrian innocents like them have had to run for their lives to the Azraq camp, 90 kilometres from the border with Syria.

"And they are just continually expanding the camps because there is just no room for all the refugees arriving," says Roz, an ex-Miss Universe Ireland, who is in a relationship with musician and Voice of Ireland judge Niall Breslin.

"These people all left their country because of fear. That's what they all said. Fear. 'This mightn't be much of a life in the refugee camps but at least it gives us security and safety.'"

"I was there to see what was going on and come back and help raise awareness of what World Vision are doing there – there is a lot of huge positives they are doing," she says.

Roz saw many girls "just like me", she says, "just like you and me, who have lost everything literally over night.

She says: "So that was really hard for me, especially meeting girls my age. I asked them what's the thing you missed the most.

"For them, it was the simplest thing, like their privacy, your own room, because a lot of them wear the veils, so they could never take it off."

Roz – who was in Jordan to highlight the work of the aid organisation World Vision, which is providing water and sanitation there – said most of the young people she met in the refugee camp had no expectation for the future.

They just looked forward to lying down with a roof over their heads and falling to sleep without hearing the sound of explosions, and the promise of terror and fear to come, in the night. She recalls meeting children at the water tanks in the camp one day and getting them to sing songs.

"Then," she continues, "all of a sudden about five planes flew over – and they looked like military planes.

"The kids were grabbing me and going; 'Look! Look! Look!' They acted out with their arms the actions of planes and then they made the noise of missiles falling and then they acted out people dying."

This, Roz explains, was one of the saddest moments on the trip because, she says, when children in Ireland see planes they think of holidays.

"You just think, 'Some of these kids don't even have parents. They don't even have shoes. They have to grow up so much quicker than children here in Ireland. They have to fend for themselves'."

Roz, as an ambassador for World Vision, admits that she found the experience "depressing. It was so derelict, in the middle of a desert".

When asked how she felt when she left the camp on May 21, after three days she'll never forget, Roz concludes: "Firstly, I felt really fortunate. When I came out, I was texting my friends: 'We are so lucky to be born in Ireland.'

"Secondly, I felt huge sympathy for these people and what they are going through.

"They all love Syria. They all want to go back to Syria. They say, 'Syria is my home. It is my love.' They believe in two or three months it will be all over and they can go back to Syria, but realistically ... ."

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Sunday Independent

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