Syrian Refugees Struggle at Zaatari Camp
About 120,000 Syrians are calling the tents and trailers of the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan home, at least for the foreseeable future. Related Article »
Lynsey Addario for The New York Times
ZAATARI, Jordan – Some 1.3 million Syrians fleeing civil war have flooded surrounding nations. More than 500,000 are in Jordan, perhaps 120,000 of them in the mind- numbing rows of tents and trailers in the overcrowded Zaatari refugee camp. To move out into Jordan’s overwhelmed cities and villages, Syrians need a sponsor guaranteeing financial support. This leaves many stuck in Zaatari, which opened last July, for months, struggling to survive cold nights, dusty days and a diet of dry rations, and with little to do but long for home.
A Makeshift Metropolis Emerges in the Desert
From September to November of last year, Zaatari doubled in size, to 5,000 shelters. It long ago exceeded its planned capacity of 60,000 people. There are now 25,000 dwellings sprawling across five square miles. Aid workers hope to replace all the tents with sturdier mobile-home units by mid-summer. So far, there are 10,000.
Hope and Uncertainty at the Border Crossing
Most refugees cross the border at night, some after days of trekking led by opposition fighters. But as the rebels have taken control of areas close to the border, more people are crossing during daylight. At Shajarah, a major Jordanian Army registration point along the border, 541 refugees arrived one recent Wednesday. They were given biscuits and juice and spent up to 12 hours crowding around two soldiers in a dimly lighted tent who checked their identification and logged their names by hand.
“We slept in a bus and we rode in a taxi then from car to car. Half of the trip was walking on rocks and we reached here at 3 a.m. I’m waiting here until God makes it better there.”
From Tent to Trailer, Waiting to Go Home
In Zaatari, the mobile-home units known as caravans are the most precious commodity, separating those who have little from those who have less. The 200-square-foot caravans, donated by more than half a dozen countries, have windows, floors and doors that lock.
“It’s so easy. I feel proud because I feel like I help my family by bringing this income.”