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First Syrian tent camp in Jordan provokes waves of dissent among refugees

6-year-old Widad stands in front of her family’s sand-covered tent at the Zaatari camp where her family, which includes two wheelchair-ridden members, is sheltered.


06/08/2012 - Mafraq, Jordan – In the sweltering heat of an exceptionally hot summer here on Jordan’s border with Syria, 500 refugees – out of a total of 38,000 registered refugees – were transferred early last week to the “Zaatari Camp”, Jordan’s first tented camp in Mafraq. 

Set in a desolate plot of land, the camp so far comprises 2,000 tents, each able to accommodate up to 5 people. The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), which plans to further expand the camp, says that it can eventually provide shelter for over 120,000 people. As the crisis escalates across the border, the average influx of Syrians into Jordan has also increased and is reaching up to 1,500 people a day. 

Although UNHCR has built the new camp in accordance to imposed standards, the concept of being sheltered in tents has triggered a wave of dissent among the refugees. “Before crossing over, we saw Syrian refugees in Turkey sheltered in ordinary rooms with televisions where they could follow the news on what’s happening in Syria,” said one middle-aged Syrian. “But here in tents in the middle of the desert, how can we live this way?” Tension among refugees has worsened after the Jordanian government announced last week the cancellation of the “bailout” system. Currently, it is still unclear whether the “bailout” system will be resumed or not. This option allowed refugees to leave the fenced camps under the wing of a Jordanian citizen – although the decision has been revoked and the final policy is unclear yet. 

One man, who crossed with his wife and children, protested the announcement and explained that “it was not fair” that his family was unable to join his eldest son who works in the capital, Amman, and who has a job. Voluntary return also is an option, however. A number of single men, of 18 years of age and some still minors, said they would rather return and die in their country. “At least we would die as martyrs,” the young men echoed. 

Much of what was said by the refugees revolved around their frustration over the loss of life in their homeland. “Every day for us means more innocent Syrians killed,” said Mohammed, a man in his 60s. “Why is the world watching as our children are being slaughtered?” A young man insisted on showing me a video taken on his phone camera before his family decided to flee to Jordan – the visuals of a blasted car, debris and destroyed pink walls bounced off the screen illustrating the shelling of a school where he and his family took shelter after their house was raided in Dera’a. 

The fact that 75% of those affected by the crisis are women and children is undeniable. Hiding from the blazing sun, women linger in the tents with their children, many of whom are as young as 20 days old with flies hovering atop their fragile bodies. They await the setting sun at around 7:30 pm so that they can break their fast in this holy month of Ramadan. It is the most vulnerable who are paying the highest price for what was once called “the Syrian revolution”. 

With the camp open for less than two weeks now, the improvement of the refugees’ conditions seems a work in progress. Earlier this week, the government together with UNICEF announced plans to open a school for young Syrian refugees, an initiative sponsored by the EU. 

Since the start of the uprising in Syria, ECHO has contributed €40 million in humanitarian aid to support Syrians affected both in Syria and in neighbouring countries in the region like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. 

By Dina Baslan
Communications and information assistant, Amman.
Related Information

- Photo Story Syria – refugees seeking safety in Jordan 

- Aid in action: Syria crisis

One Response to “First Syrian tent camp in Jordan provokes waves of dissent among refugees”

  1. Christopher Nicholas says:

    Thank-you Dina for painting such a vivid picture of the situation – I’m sure I am not the only one who would be keen to follow the development via this blog over the coming weeks.

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