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Syrian Refugees Mark Third Year at Jordan's Zaatari Camp

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - Syrian refugees walk at the Al Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, Dec. 7, 2014.

FILE - Syrian refugees walk at the Al Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, Dec. 7, 2014.

The U.N. refugee agency reports hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Jordan face an increasingly grim future as the Zaatari refugee camp marks its third anniversary.

Zaatari camp’s expansion mirrors the intensification of the war in Syria, which began more than four years ago with a series of anti-government protests.

In just three years, Jordan’s Zaatari camp, set up in just nine days, has grown to be the largest camp in the Middle East, housing about 81,000 Syrian refugees.

UNHCR spokeswoman Ariane Rummery said the camp, from its primitive beginnings, has become a vibrant, bustling home to the refugees, more than half of whom are children.

Schooling issue

Rummery said providing schooling to this large child population is a daunting task.

“One in every three children inside Zaatri camp is outside of formal or informal schooling," she said.

"There is also about 9,500 young people between 19 and 24 who need skills training and lack those other ways to make a living. About 5 percent of these young people were at university in Syria, but had to drop out because of the conflict and only 1.6 percent of those had managed to graduate," Rummery added.

While conditions for refugees in camps are difficult, they are worse for the more than half a million refugees trying to eke out a living in urban areas.

A recent survey finds 86 percent of these people live below the Jordanian poverty line of about $95 a month.

Outside the camp

Rummery told VOA the assistance these refugees receive from the UNHCR, World Food Program and other agencies is not enough and is forcing them to resort to so-called negative coping strategies.

“Things like pulling children out of school. That means begging, that means child labor," she said.

"It is easier for children to work under the radar in Jordan, for example. So families often are having to rely on their children to work because of their very difficult economic situation," Rummery said.

The spokeswoman said only about 45 people a day are crossing into Jordan, largely because the authorities are managing the border with Syria and are limiting the flow of refugees.

She said there is a growing number of refugees returning home to Syria.

Some return

Rummery said they are returning to their war-torn country because it is too difficult to survive in Jordan, which should be a place of refuge for them.

Since the conflict began in March 2011, the United Nations estimates about 200,000 people have been killed.

The U.N. refugee agency reported more than 4 million Syrians have become refugees and another 7.6 million are internally displaced.