Zaatari (2012- ) is a refugee camp in Jordan just over the Syrian border. It is the largest camp of Syrian refugees in the world, with about 80,000 who have fled the civil war. Zaatari is now one of the ten largest cities in Jordan.
The Syrian Civil War grew out of the government’s hideous military crackdown on the Arab Spring of 2011. Before the war, Syria had 22 million people, 1 million of whom had fled there from the US war in Iraq. Now there are only 16.6 million people in Syria: 400,000 are dead and 5 million have fled. Another 7 million fled their homes but are (still) in Syria.
The 5 million Syrian refugees have fled mostly to the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. Not all are Muslim. Some are Christians who speak Aramaic, the same language as Jesus.
Jordan has taken in 1.3 million Syrian refugees, who now make up 13% of the country. They are not allowed to work, forcing them into the black market and poverty. Most live not in refugee camps but at the edge of cities.
Zaatari has received 400,000 refugees, of which 80,000 are now at the camp. About 110,000 have gone back to Syria. Most of the rest are likely somewhere in Jordan.
Zaatari stands at the edge of the desert, a place of sandstorms, scorpions and snakes. People live in tents and caravans (trailers). The camp has its own wells, but only some have running water. There is electricity for part of the day as well as mobile phone and Internet service, which allows the refugees to keep in touch with Syria.
- free medical care. About 10,000 have been born there. Their citizenship is an open question.
- one paved street, called the Champs-Elysees. It has taxi service, cafes, appliance stores, bridal shops and so on.
- a German mayor: Kilian Kleinschmidt, the person the United Nations put in charge. The refugees call him “the mayor” or “lord mayor”.
- gangs, fixers, pimps and young brides. Many girls are pressured into early marriages to keep them from the pimps. Men from Jordan and the Gulf know this and come there to find young brides.
- nine schools for 30,000 children of school age. Only a third of children go to school. Others are taught at home or have to work. For many, their school or university education has been put on hold.
- troubled children: they still wet their bed at age ten, draw pictures of blood and weapons and dead bodies, are awake in the middle of the night, and so on. Some have even stopped talking. They have seen too much in Syria, like their mother getting gunned down.
- riots over living conditions, which slowly seem to be getting better.
When they first arrived, they thought they would just be there for a few months. But months have stretched into years. Many have lost family and friends. All have lost their homes, their country and, worst of all, their future. One said it is like a slow death.
– Abagond, 2016.