Until last weekend, some 10,000 Syrian refugees were living in four overcrowded transit centres near the Jordan-Syria border. An additional 1,500 are arriving every night through informal border crossings, mostly from the Da’raa governorate in southern Syria. There are reports of refugees being fired upon while trying to flee. The number of refugees from Damascus has also surged following last week’s events.
Many of the refugees have been accommodated and supported by the local Jordanian community. But with the high pace of arrivals, the host communities’ limited resources and fragile local infrastructure have been stretched beyond capacity.
Recognising the strain on border facilities and host families, the Jordanian authorities and local charities requested UNHCR and its partners to set up a new camp, the first since the Iraq refugee crisis started in Jordan. Work started on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan on July 20. The Jordanian government, the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organisation, Jordan Health Aid Society, UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP and other partners worked tirelessly to expedite the camp’s opening. With searing temperatures of up to 45 degrees Celsius, teams had to work at night to erect tents, install water and sanitation facilities and set up massive warehouses.
Nine days later, Za’atri, a windswept camp in the desert close to Mafraq in northern Jordan, was opened. More than 750 refugees have so far been moved from two transit centres into the new camp. Most of the moving takes place between 9 pm and 5 am to avoid the day-time heat. The camp, which can host 10,000 refugees at the moment, will be able to accommodate up to 113,000 when it is completed.
“We are seeing a surge of women and children, the majority who have suffered enormously in Syria. We obviously do not want to host refugees who have suffered so much in a camp like Za’atri, but we have no choice,” said Andrew Harper, UNHCR’s Representative in Jordan. “We are the first to admit that it is a hot desolate location. Nobody wants to put a family who has already suffered so much in a tent, in the desert, but we have no choice. We are prepared to provide the most basic of assistance and maximum protection, but we have to work with what we have.”
The Jordanian government estimates that some 140,000 Syrian refugees have entered the Kingdom since March last year. More than 50,000 of them are receiving protection and assistance; the rest are not registered.
In total, more than 124,000 Syrian refugees have been registered in the region so far. The majority of them are entirely dependent on humanitarian aid. To respond to their needs in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey, the UN and non-government organizations have appealed for US$193 million under the Syria Regional Response Plan. The plan is only 33 percent funded and will likely be revised in the coming months to reflect the growing needs of the Syrian refugee population.