Syrian refugees mark 5,000th birth at Zaatari clinic

Baby Rima is born at a UN-run clinic to parents who married and started a family as refugees.

A Syrian refugee carries her daughters at Al Zaatari refugee camp
Kholoud Ahmad Suleiman is living in Zaatari with her husband and now two children [Muhammad Hamed/Reuters]

Zaatari camp, Jordan – The 5,000th birth at Zaatari’s delivery clinic was celebrated at this Syrian refugee camp, where red roses were given to all mothers, and falafel from the father’s workplace were served.

Rima, born on Tuesday, is the second child to Khoulod Ahmad Suleiman, 21, and her husband Mohammad Salameh, who is 22. Two-year-old Alaa was also born in Zaatari, a camp which houses around 80,000 Syrian refugees.

The family appears to epitomise much of the Syrian refugee experience during the war, which is soon to enter its sixth year. Rima and her big sister were both born in Jordan, where their parents were also married, and the newborn is named after the Jordanian doctor who delivered her. 

Khouloud and Mohammad are both from Deraa, in Syria’s south, and left the country two and three years ago, respectively.

They knew each other from home, but it is in Zaatari they got married, and have now started a family.

“When we each arrived we thought we would be here for around two to three months,” Mohammad said. “But when we realised that it was going to be a much longer time, we decided to start a family here.”

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Khoulod said Rima’s birth went well, and that she received all the medical attention and help she needed in the run-up to the delivery.

The young woman is a little shy, and not at first totally enthusiastic about the attention her landmark baby is giving her and her family.

But she beams when looking at her newborn, and says she hopes for more children – but after a break of two or three years.

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Mohammad is lucky to have work – Syrians are technically not allowed to work in Jordan, but in the camp many work in informal jobs. He works 12 hours a day, seven days a week in the falafel shop, which earns him only $211 a month – and with that he must support an extended family of six in total.

Back at the maternity clinic- officially titled the Women and Girls Comprehensive Centre – Rima’s namesake is attending to other recent mothers.

Dr Rima Diab helped deliver the 5,000th baby at the clinic, and Mohammad said that when he realised their baby was a milestone, they knew they had to name her after the doctor.

The clinic is supported by the UNFPA, the UN’s Population Fund, and run by the Jordanian Health Aid Society. It averages six “normal” vaginal births every day, Dr Diab said. There have been no maternal deaths in the clinic.

If there are complications or emergencies, including caesarean sections, the mother is taken to the Moroccan field hospital in the camp. Sometimes, if cases deteriorate, or if newborns need intensive care, they are then taken to Mafraq hospital, just outside of the tightly-guarded camp.

In the postnatal room, new mothers are given help with breastfeeding and the babies receive their first vaccinations, in line with the Jordanian programme of immunisation.

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Fatima, 20, who did not want to give her last name, had just given birth for the first time, to an as yet unnamed baby girl, three hours previously.

She said that the labour had gone fine, and the staff had all been incredibly helpful.

Originally from the Ghouta area outside of Damascus, Fatima has been in the camp for two years now.

“I am so happy as I have a baby now, but I am sad as I am so far away from home,” she said.

Two beds along and separated by curtains, a 19-year-old who did not want to give her name, had also just given birth for the first time, to a little boy called Mohammad.

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“I was a little scared at first,” she said, “and there was some pain. But now I am so happy that this has made the pain disappear.”

She said she hoped for a “normal” life for her son, and that he is able to attend school.

There are seven doctors, 14 midwives and six nurses at the clinic, which has four delivery beds, and six postnatal beds, where new mothers must stay for a minimum of eight hours after giving birth.

All care at the clinic is provided free of charge.

Of the 635,000 registered refugees in Jordan, some 16,000 are pregnant at any one time, according to the UN.

Around 5 percent of Syrian babies in Jordan are born to mothers under the age of 18, a number which UNFPA and other agencies are trying to tackle.

Dan Baker, regional humanitarian coordinator and head of the Jordan country office for UNFPA, speaking at Tuesday’s ceremony, said that while the 5,000th birth was a joyous occasion amid the misery of the Syrian war, the number of births to child brides needs to be reduced, as it can puts girls at risk, “both physically and psychologically”.

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The full number of births in the camp is unknown, Baker told Al Jazeera.

Aside from the now 5,000-plus births at the delivery centre and hundreds more at the Moroccan field hospital, there were also births delivered by various NGOs, such as Gynaecologists Without Borders and MSF in the earlier days of Zaatari, and before UNFPA began consolidating services in 2013.

Baker now estimates that the total number of births in Zaatari since it opened in 2012 to be around 10,000. (The overall population of the camp used to be a lot higher, around 120,000, but some have now returned to Syria or moved on.)

Babies born in Zaatari receive UNHCR registration cards, and a Jordanian birth certificate, although this does not equate to citizenship.

“This documentation is very important because without it they do become stateless,” Baker said.  

However, what happens next is unclear. While legally, babies born to Syrians abroad are “Syrian,” it is unknown if it will be that straightforward, should these babies return to Syria, whenever that might be.

There have been no maternal deaths at the clinic since it opened [Muhammad Hamed/Reuters]
There have been no maternal deaths at the clinic since it opened [Muhammad Hamed/Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera