AP PHOTOS: For many Syrian refugee kids, a lost childhood without education

The Associated Press

In Saturday, April 5, 2014 photo, Ahmed Mahmoud, 12, shows his wrist band with colors of the Syrian revolution flag, near his family's makeshift tent in an unofficial Syrian refugee camp on the outskirts of Amman, Jordan. For Ahmed, school is a distant memory. He helps his father sell vegetables in a wholesale market near their camp where he has lived the past year.(AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

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By KHALIL HAMRA, Associated Press

ZAATARI, Jordan (AP) — For 12-year-old Ahmed Mahmoud, school is a distant memory. Already, the Syrian refugee boy insists he is no longer a child.

Ahmed helps his father sell vegetables in a wholesale market near their makeshift refugee camp just outside Jordan's capital, Amman, where he has lived for the past year. On a recent day, he watched other kids play but refused to join. Instead, he supervised them, scolding them if they argue or get out of line.

"These are children. I am a man. I am too old to be playing with them," Ahmed said, wearing a wristband with the colors of the Syrian flag. He fiddled with a kite other children left behind, raising it in the air but then going and picking up his toddler brother who tried to join the children's games.

More than 2.8 million Syrian children inside and outside the country — nearly half the school-aged population — cannot get an education because of the devastation from the civil war, according to the U.N. children's agency, UNICEF.

They include a half-million children from among the wave of Syrian refugees that has flooded neighboring Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and other countries in the region.

In Jordan, some 93,000 Syrian children are out of school, according to UNICEF — most, like Ahmed, because they have missed too much school already and are ineligible.

Aid agencies have set up schools in Jordan's main official refugee camp, Zaatari. But Ahmed's family left the camp more than a year ago because of overcrowding and lack of security and moved into a small informal camp of about 300 families farther south, just outside of Amman — where there are no schools.

The conflict in Syria, now in its fourth year, has etched itself deeply into Ahmed's childhood. He can vividly recount the devastation he saw in his home city, Hama, before his family fled.

"I want to go back to Hama to fight with the Free Syrian Army and liberate my country," he said.

Here is a selection of photos of Ahmed and other refugee children by Associated Press photographer Khalil Hamra.

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