Jordan's Syrian refugee camps - humanitarian crisis in the making?
Zaatari, the first tent camp erected by the Jordanian authorities for Syrians fleeing the conflict in their country, is currently home to around 2,000 refugees. Located next to the Syrian border, the camp is exposed to the elements; battered by dust storms in the open sun.
Many of the refugees are from Homs, Dara’a and Damascus.
“Thanks be to God, we feel safe now we’re here," says Doa, who fled with her husband and child from Baba Amr in Homs at the beginning of August. "'In Syria we feared for our homes and our lives. Most of the people from our neighbourhood are dead.”
The camp represents a shift in the Jordanian authorities’ position, a visible break in its diplomatic ties to Damascus. But soaring numbers of refugees has forced the opening of the facility, which will soon not be the only one of its kind.
In July, Jordan approved a UN plan to build 200 camps along the border, housing up to one million Syrian refugees.
Yet 21-year-old Alaa Al-Halili from Dara’a does not want to be stuck in the camp for long.
“No one could stay here for more than a short time, definitely not women or children," he says. "The dirt, the dust, is unbearable, not to mention the heat. This place…it isn’t in Jordan, it’s in the desert in the middle of nowhere.”
Refugees complain about having to walk long distances to get water. The camp's facilities are still under construction, although one official, who refused to be named, complained that it opened before it was ready to begin taking in refugees.
“I thought that coming to Jordan meant that we could relax, that we would be able to move freely," says 19-year-old Zaari Masaari, also from Dara’a. "We didn’t come here to live in tents. It’s a joke that we can’t even leave the camp. This situation makes our house and our lives in Syria look better. Yes, it’s dangerous. But it’s better to be there and die quickly than stay here and die slowly.”
Masaari, Halili and the other young men in their tent said that they have begun thinking about how to return to Syria.
With 2,000 tents for a capacity of 10,000 people already built, the challenge is to ensure that the camp’s infrastructure is able to cope with the coming influx of people.
As the conflict in Syria wears on, the possibility that the refugee camps may not be a short-term option could be a problem for the Jordanian government, who have recently begun to describe the situation as a humanitarian crisis.