From the Syrian Border: The Growing Refugee Crisis in Jordan

From the Syrian Border: The Growing Refugee Crisis in Jordan

When Syrian refugees are admitted to the Za’atari refugee camp, UN field officers like Amna Al Ahmar of Sudan are there to greet and process them. Up to 400 a night are admitted at this camp, alone. They face an uncertain future. The conditions in the camps are difficult enough that some would rather leave and take their chances in Syria.

This morning the Obama administration recognized the Syrian opposition as “the legitimate representative” of its Syrian people.  A swift end to the crisis in Syria could not come soon enough for Jordan. Currently, according to the UN,  there are 144,226 registered (or awaiting registration) Syrian refugees here . On top of that, up to 2,000 Syrian men, women and children cross the border every day with uncertain futures and little hope.

More accurately. they cross every night.

“We rotate the night shifts,”  Amna Al Amhar of the UNHCR told us while we visited the  Za’atari refugee camp,  30km south of Jordan’s border with Syria “On my busiest shift we had over 400 people cross in one night.”

Syrian Children at the Za’atari refugee camp. There are currently 250,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan.

Night crossings are safer, so the nights are long for field officers like Amna who are armed with just the most basic of tools to do their jobs in the face of the huge humanitarian crisis. There are 40,000 people in this camp, 5,000 of them are children.

There are up to 5,000 children living here at the Za’atari refugee camp.

Muslim culture is not well-suited for communal living. The place is sandy and the nights are cold. There are complaints that the tents leak when it rains. All of this, though would seem to be better than from where they came, but some do opt to leave and go back to Syria, as they are welcome to do at any time.

The Za’atari refugee camp can often feel like a prison for those who have left Syria to seek refuge here. Some leave rather than tolerate its conditions.

Kamel Saadi of Jordan at the entrance to Za’atari refugee camp in Northern Jordan. Kamel is traveling with us while we are here in Jordan.

Dave Evans (far left) and Michael Lundquist (far right) of the Polus Center for Social and Economic Development meeting with Amna Al Ahmar of the UNHCR (not pictured).

Not all Syrian refugees in Jordan live in the camps, however. Many have crossed the border and either avoided the places like Za’atari or been have been “bailed out” by Jordanian relatives, disappearing into the cities, suburbs and countryside of Northern Jordan. While camp life is hard, outside the camp is just as, if not more challenging.

From a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor:

Interviewees in Jordan’s poor neighborhoods describe scrounging for assistance: traveling around the city and waiting in long lines to register with charities or the UN, or to pick up occasional food packages, or gifts of furniture. For those who sneaked out of the camp, accessing even the most basic services seems impossible, because they lack proper identification.

“I always encourage people in Za’atari not to leave the camp,” says Massara Srass, head of the Syrian Women’s Organization, which provides assistance to refugees in Amman. “The problems you will face outside of Za’atari are bigger than in Za’atari.”

Syrian refugees living outside the refugee camps are not much better off than those in them. The growing number of refugees is creating more instability in a country already on the edge.

This situation is not only hard on the refugees themselves, the growing number of Syrians seeking shelter is only adding to the increasing instability in Jordan, where many feel revolution could come at any time.

The United States recognizing the Syrian opposition is welcome news to the Syrian people here and many Jordanians as they feel it is the first step to the US Government supporting the fight and ending the conflict there. The big question is if Jordan’s government can hang on long enough to see it happen.


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