The camp is in a desert area. It’s dry, incredibly windy and there’s a lot of dust in the air. The people living there told me that when they go to take a shower, by the time they get back to their tent, they’re already covered from head to toe in dust again.
A lot of these people come Syria’s central city of Homs or other urban areas, and they’ve probably never spent any time in a desert. They’re completely out of their element. All of a sudden they find themselves plopped down in the middle of the desert, with limited resources.
Tents inside the Za'atri camp.
In general, the refugees are not allowed to leave the camp. The camp is heavily guarded and there’s even a helicopter that circles at night. One of the only ways for someone to get permission to leave is if a Jordanian sponsors them. The situation inside the camp feels tense. A number of refugees told me that there had been some altercations with security personnel and a small riot recently, and I saw policemen walking around with batons.
One of the biggest complaints I heard from people within the camp was about the food. They say food is scarce and what is available is of bad quality. When I went to the camp on Monday, people in the camp had not eaten for the past 24 hours when the food truck arrived. Some said they felt the food delivery had been delayed because they were being punished over the recent unrest in the camp. Another problem is water. There is running water there, but because of the weather conditions it is often too hot to drink. I spoke with a father who said his baby would no longer drink from a bottle, because the liquid was too warm. They do bring cold water into the camp, but that comes only as often as the food does.
Refugees crowd around a truck distributing aid.
“I would urge the authorities to spend one night with these refugees to see what it’s like”
People also complained about the bureaucracy inside the camp. They have to register in the camp as a refugee, but they don’t know when they’ll be called to sign up [registering as a refugee allows individuals to access various forms of protection and assistance]. So they wind up waiting days in uncertainty, not knowing what’s going to happen to them.
There are people within the camp who would rather go back to Syria and face the risk of death, than stay in the camp. I spoke with people who have nothing left in Syria, their homes have been completely destroyed in the conflict, but who are trying to get out whatever way they can. I would urge UN officials and the Jordanian authorities to spend one night with these refugees just to see what it’s like. It’s miserable.