Jordan: As massive Za’atari refugee camp turns 10, Syrians face an uncertain future


“With the rise in food prices around the world, many refugee families… struggling to meet their basic needs on a daily basis”, said Dominik Bartsch, UNHCR representative in Amman. “Of course food aid is provided, but in general household incomes are falling rapidly and we are seeing increasing poverty in the camp.”

debt problems

According to UNHCR, two in three refugee families in Za’atari say they are in debt and 92 of them said they have to resort to negative coping strategies, such as reducing food intake or accepting high-risk jobs. These numbers have risen at a worrying rate.

And after that UN-led constitutional talks between the warring factions of Syria were postponed at the beginning of the week, a geopolitical victim of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, humanitarian aid workers remain particularly concerned about the Syrian children housed in Za’atari, for whom the camp is “their world become,” said Mr Bartsch.

The prospects for a return do not look rosy for the time being. We do not see an environment in Syria that would be conducive to returnbut it is nevertheless reassuring that when asked whether they would consider returning home, refugees have responded mostly positively.”

unsustainable pressure

More than 20,000 births have been recorded in the Za’atari camp since its opening, Mr Bartsch noted, before pointing out the “limited opportunities for the many children born in the camp and have seen no other surroundings than the camp itself.”

Crediting the camp with “saving thousands of lives and providing work and opportunity” “for Jordanians and Syrians alike,” UN refugee agency official warned that the situation was untenablewith its weathered temporary shelters that increasingly show their limitations.

“The caravans, which replaced the tents in 2013, have a normal lifespan of six to eight years, meaning most of them now require urgent repair… In 2021 alone, more than 7,000 refugees requested maintenance support because roofs and windows cracked and walls warped, exposing some residents to the elements,” he explained.

Electricity is another concern. Although a solar power plant was opened in 2017 to power the camp, its capacity was only able to meet the needs of all residents for 11.5 hours a day.

In recent months, as demand for electricity for the summer increased, UNHCR had to cut it down to nine hours a day to cover the extra electricity costs, as the solar installation does not cover all the camp’s needs.

UN Photo/Mark Garten

An aerial view of the Zaiatri refugee camp near Mafraq, Jordan, which is home to tens of thousands of Syrians displaced by the conflict. Dec 7, 2012.

Welcoming tradition

Jordan hosts 675,000 registered refugees from Syria, which began to flee in 2011 when a civil war broke out, causing terrible suffering, death and economic destruction. Most Syrian refugees in Jordan live in towns and villages between local communities. Only 17 percent live in the two main refugee camps, Za’atari and Azraq.

“It is a testimony, a testimony to the generosity of the government of Jordan, which at the time allowed Syrian refugees to enter its territory 10 years ago, 11 years ago and then set up facilities that are truly remarkable by global standards.” said Mr Bartsch of Za’atari, speaking via video link from Amman to journalists in Geneva.

Humanitarian aid to refugees in the camp is led by the Jordanian government and UNHCR, which employs nearly 1,200 staff from 32 different international and Jordanian organizations.

Start-up philosophy

This humanitarian aid would not have been possible without the support of the international communitysaid Mr. Bartsch, who also highlighted the determination and resilience of the camp residents, who have seen nearly 1,800 stores and businesses start from scratch.

“From cell phone shops to restaurants, bridal shops to mechanics, these companies employ an estimated 3,600 refugees,” the UNHCR official continued. “But they don’t operate in isolation.

Refugee entrepreneurs regularly engage with businesses and customers in the nearby town of Mafraq and contribute to the Jordanian economy and host society.”

Za’atari has 32 schools, 58 community centers and eight health facilities that operate alongside civil defense and community police.

In addition to co-managing the camp with the authorities, UNHCR and its partners provide protection, health and financial assistance to the women, men and children in the camp.

“Long-term, our prognosis is that an ongoing approach to progressively include refugees in national aid is the path to follow,” said Mr Bartsch, praising Jordan for giving refugees access “from an early age”. to education, health care and the labor market.

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