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A Weight Off Their Mind

In the barren plains of northern Jordan, just 10 miles from the Syrian border, lies the Zaatari refugee camp where close to 150,000 Syrians have found shelter after fleeing across the border from their homeland which has been gripped by one of the most vicious civil wars in recent history. Zaatari is now the second largest refugee camp in the world and Jordan's fourth biggest city. In this kingdom of 8 million people which so far has largely escaped the upheavals of the Arab Spring, yet another influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees from a neighbouring country is threatening to destabilise the precarious balance between the different population groups including Palestinians (about half of the population), Iraqi Christians (approx. 500,000) and now an estimated 600,000 Syrians. While many of the Zaatari residents are women, children and the elderly there are also tens of thousands of young men who were faced with the terrifying choice of either fighting with one of the militias or being conscripted into the Syrian Army when the civil war started. Syrian refugees in Jordan are not given work permits and don't have access to educational institutions. In addition to this, certain professions like engineering, accountancy, construction work and driving are reserved for Jordanians, making it very difficult for refugees to make any money even in the lesser paid jobs.

For many young men, life in the camp has little meaning in a conservative society where gender roles remain clearly demarcated and the man's role is to go out and earn money for the family's upkeep. Depression, listlessness, violence and drug abuse are common among many who see no end in sight to the slaughter across the border.

While visiting the camp on assignment for Save the Children (SCF), Chris de Bode came across the Men's Activity Centre, a gym set up by SCF, where dozens of young men meet to pump iron, talk and find a sense of purpose in their unfamiliar home away from home.
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