Tanya Burr shines a light on the winter emergency facing Syrian refugees  

I didn’t understand the scale of the Syrian refugee crisis until I saw it for myself. 

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©UNHCR/Jordi Matas

Tanya Burr is an actress and influencer who has been supporting UNHCR since 2019.  Committed to helping change the stigma around refugees and build empathy and understanding for the millions of forcibly displaced around the world, last winter Tanya visited the Azraq camp in Jordan with UNHCR.

Upon arrival to the camp, Tanya was shocked by the scale of the Syrian refugee crisis.

“It was difficult to envisage what it would be like but any expectations I had fell away once I arrived at Azraq. Nothing could have prepared me for how big it was and seeing so many shelters lined up. That’s when the reality kicked in. Azraq is home to over 35,000 Syrian refugees and over 60 per cent of them are children. It was like a village but without any of the normal things that come with that.”

On her trip, Tanya got the opportunity to speak to one woman, Nisreen, and her children about their experiences.

“I spent a day hearing stories first-hand. All of them were heart-breaking, but one of the most affecting was Nisreen’s. She told me about her husband who passed away in Syria in 2013. He was coming back home when he was caught in crossfire and was hit by shrapnel close to his heart.”

The journey to safety was especially perilous for Nisreen and her children.

Tanya recounts their conversation, “She made the journey to Jordan alongside her four children with no support, food or water, carrying her three-year-old on her back, trying to keep him quiet in the pitch-black night, as they crossed the border so as not to attract attention and gunfire. They spent 70 days in the no-man’s land between Syria and Jordan before being transported to Azraq with help from the Jordanian army.”

“I’m aware that I have a large social media following that I can use to shine a light on an issue that needs funding, but also create far more understanding.”

Tanya went on to discuss the harsh realities of winter and how it would impact Nisreen and her four children.

“Nisreen and her family have now been at the camp for seven years, and she said that while conditions had got better, this time of year is hardest. The temperatures are now reaching below zero and the refugees are incredibly vulnerable, especially the children. The kids seemed so resilient, though – not crying, just getting on with life. It was lovely to see them smiling but it’s very concerning knowing the temperatures are just going to keep dropping and they become more vulnerable.”

Jordan. UNHCR Supporter Tanya Burr meets Samira, Samaher, Kholoud and Itidal, Syrian refugees living in Azraq camp

Tanya Burr meets Samira, Samaher, Kholoud and Itidal, Syrian refugees living in Azraq camp in Jordan. They are part of the SEP Jordan artisan collective which is supported by UNHCR’s MADE51 livelihoods programme to help refugees access global markets with the crafts they produce. Photo: © UNHCR/Jordi Matas

Jordan. UNHCR Supporter Tanya Burr meets Syrian refugee and mother Nisreen in Azraq camp

Tanya Burr meets Syrian refugee and mother Nisreen in Azraq camp. Nisreen is a single mother of 4 children - two boys and two girls). Alaa (10) and Mohammed (8) are pictured. Her husband was killed in Syria in 2014 when he was caught in crossfire and a piece of shrapnel embedded near his heart. He survived for a month but ultimately died from the wound. © UNHCR/Jordi Matas

Jordan. UNHCR Supporter Tanya Burr visits UNHCR managed Azraq camp for Syrian refugees.

Tanya Burr visits UNHCR managed Azraq camp for Syrian refugees, Jordan. Photo: © UNHCR/Jordi Matas

When Tanya got back to London, she knew that part of her job was to create more understanding for refugees and encourage people to support in whatever ways they can.

“I’m aware that I have a large social media following that I can use to shine a light on an issue that needs funding, but also create far more understanding. You can hear about a situation on the news but it wasn’t until I was there, listening to people’s lives, that I felt that connection. I will never forget the faces of the people I met – and their children.”

Syrian refugees have coped with so much already but the threat of coronavirus on top of another harsh winter means they need our support now more than ever.

Tanya emphasises, “They have lost so much – everything really – but Nisreen told me that she is just grateful. She said: ‘All the hardship doesn’t matter. I’m just very thankful to be here. My children are safe so we’re okay.’”

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