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Jordan Struggles With Syrian Refugee Crisis

  • Zlatica Hoke

Zaatari camp in Jordan has more than 140,000 Syrian refugees. Thousands of other refugees live in Jordanian towns close to the border with Syria. Humanitarian workers say they are preparing Syrian refugees for a return home, even though it is far from clear when that may be.

Since its opening more than a year ago, the Zaatari camp has become Jordan's fourth largest city.

The sprawling tent city has schools, health centers and places of prayer, and a main street lined with stores and cafes.

The refugees have fled violence, harassment and fear, but also hunger and deprivation that the war in their country has brought on.

Twelve-year-old Sami recalls food shortages during his last weeks in Syria.

"In the last three weeks in Syria we were living on bulgur, tomatoes and sometimes there was a car that brought bread, but it was very expensive," Sami said. "What can I say, the situation was dark and difficult.''

In Zaatari, children go to school, new babies are born and even weddings take place. But life is far from normal in the camp, where most people think they will return home one day.

"We are preparing them for life after this crisis," said Jack Byrne, country director for Jordan at the International Rescue Committee. "We do not provide them with jobs in Jordan, and it's not the policy of the Jordanian government. So we try to provide more counseling, more therapy, more preparation for when they can rebuild their lives."

More than two million people have fled Syria, putting a strain on the host countries. Jordan's King Abdullah urged the international community Tuesday to help take care of the growing number of refugees in his country.

"The flow of Syrian refugees in Jordan already equals one-tenth of our own population," he noted. "It could reach 1 million, some 20 percent of our population, by next year. These are not just numbers. They are people who need food, water, shelter, sanitation, electricity, health care and more."

Byrne said the humanitarian effort in Jordan needs to double its current funding to provide basic relief for Syrian refugees in the coming year.

"When we look at the protracted crisis that may go on for another year and even if it were to end tomorrow, there would be a great need in rebuilding and resettling people. I think we would be talking about anywhere between $5 and $20 million in the next eight to 12 months," he said.

The United States announced in June that it is doubling its aid for Syrian refugees to $890 million for this year. It is by far the largest aid donor to the Syrian disaster relief.