With the world preoccupied with the war in Ukraine and successive natural disasters, more than 80,000 Syrians in the “Zaatari camp” face a difficult situation, as the future of these people and their possible return to their homeland is no longer certain is not. “Ten years have passed and we cannot move forward with our lives or go back,” said Muhammad al-Hariri, whose last name is “Abu Shadi”, a resident of the refugee camp, “It seems as if the world is forgetting us has. “
As the world’s attention turns to new crises and conflicts; From the coronavirus pandemic to Russia’s war in Ukraine, to natural disasters, focus and funds have waned on one of the world’s largest unresolved refugee crises. It raises questions about how dignity can be preserved in the face of dwindling hope, and what justice is in a world with limited resources.
Zaatari refugee camp is home to only a fraction of the 670,000 Syrian refugees registered in Jordan, most of whom burden the kingdom’s crowded urban centers. In its early years, Zaatari, 50 miles north of Amman, made headlines for cutting-edge innovation in what was initially a refugee camp. Desert for emergencies: prefabricated housing, sewage systems, water and schools, a soccer field, and the world’s first solar power plant in a refugee camp.
But everything in Zaatari is temporary, and even UN aid workers and Jordanian police work in trailers. Muhammad al-Hariri, who was one of the first residents of Zaatari, says the needs have evolved over the years.
When he fled his home in Daraa with his children and pregnant wife and arrived at the camp in August 2012, the family’s priorities were set: shelter from dust storms tearing up the tents, safe access to communal bathrooms, and securing 40 liters water per day.
Now they have a private bathroom, a water tank, three trailers that serve as bedrooms, and an electric refrigerator for 12 hours a day in the camp. His daughter Hala, who was one of the first children born in Zaatari camp, is now in fifth grade.
Hariri says: “When we first arrived in Jordan, our needs were shelter, food and safety; This is what Jordan and the international community gave us.” The Syrian refugee added, sitting in his guests’ salon: “After 10 years, our needs have changed, but the resources have been cut.”
He continues, “Before that we were looking for a roof over our heads and clean water, and now we’re worried about college scholarships and securing the future for our children.” Work for a new generation reaching the age of majority is limited, and his eldest son “Abdullah” is unemployed, while his second son, “Youssef” works as a volunteer photographer. Hariri says: “We are facing a lost generation.”
Skilled trades closed
Jordaan closes the door to skilled occupations for foreigners; Only Syrians are allowed to work in agriculture, manufacturing, restaurants and construction. The best Syrian university graduates can hope for is volunteering for the United Nations, and many from the Zaatari camp work on nearby farms for several dollars a day.
Scholarships for Syrian students in Jordan have been reduced to just 10, leaving hundreds of Syrians competing for few opportunities to complete their education.
Rural Syrian families who traditionally did not send their daughters to school, preferring to marry them off, instead became convinced that education would ensure a better future for them.
Now, Syrian high school students – especially girls – are among the highest-earning students in Jordan, and one of those girls is Hajar Nabulsi, who ended up getting 90.1% in her high school exams and is looking for a path to university.
The Syrian student says: “Here in Zaatari, the only way to change your life and the life of your family is to study,” and continues in plain English: “I have studied as much as I can because I don’t want to burden my family.”
In a makeshift study area her father set up in a courtyard between four trailers, Hajar spent a year preparing for her high school exams and rescheduling her sleep to cover most of the hours from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. to make.
Hager says she would like to go to medical school and become a dentist, and is currently searching online for options “America, Canada, England…I’m looking for anywhere I can study in English.” And if you don’t get a scholarship, you will study for another year, and then take the exam again, to try to get a higher grade: “Maybe a grade of 95% or more will admit me to university .”
UN and aid officials are concerned about the shattered hopes of Syrian students in the camps. While Syrian children and families have been involved in the international community’s programs, and students have been diligently studying and doing their part, they wonder where are the opportunities?
In it, says Roland Schonbauer, spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, is the fear that a whole generation will give up its future and say: “I will sell vegetables, or get humanitarian aid, and sit and wait like everyone else . .”
And the commission’s external relations officer, Mohamed Al-Taher, adds: “If students like Hajar or others get the highest grades and cannot enroll in university, and if university graduates sit in their places without prospects, it sends ‘ a message that (Study gets you nowhere) And it’s a disaster.”
Thousands of trailers need urgent maintenance. archive
Considered a major advance in 2013, Zaatari’s ready-made trailers are well past their six-year shelf life, and it shows; The floors are cracked, the ceilings are collapsing and mold is spreading throughout.
In addition, UN staff have warned that the vast majority of the 26,000 trailers are in urgent need of repair; While only 1,000 trailers can be added annually with basic repairs, the most important is the addition of aluminum plates. The waiting list for defects is years old. Muhammad al-Hariri hits his foot next to a hole in a trailer used as a bedroom for his two daughters, duct tape covers a hole in the sand under the room, and the Syrian refugee paid hundreds of dollars for repairs, but he can no longer afford.
Pointing to mold in his container, Abu Shadi, who cannot return to Syria due to security concerns, explains: “We suffer from the heat of summer and the cold of winter,” adding: “We thank God for our safety and security. We in Jordan are far better than any other host country in the world, but temporary shelter cannot be made permanent, and we cannot go on with temporary living forever.”
With savings and aid running out, two-thirds of the camp’s 3,000 informal shops have closed, and the once-bustling main street that was the center of the camp’s trade and was indeed Jordan’s busiest market.
Firas Rifai is one of the few shopkeepers trying to hang on, selling refurbished shoes from 75 cents to $12 a pair, making $5 on a good day. He and other traders hope the annual UN winter assistance to Syrian families to pay for heating and winter coats will continue this year: “When there is no aid, there are no deals,” says Rifai, stacking sneakers.
Support for the food program in the camps has declined significantly. archive
As winter approaches, UNHCR Jordan warns that it still faces a $46 million funding gap for such assistance. And other job cuts are mounting. In addition to UNHCR’s $34 million shortfall threatening health aid, the World Food Program was this month forced to cut food aid to vulnerable Syrian families living outside camps in Jordan from $33 per person per month to $22, at a time when inflation has driven up food costs . by 40%.
Fears are also growing that many grieving urban Syrian families, burdened with debt and months behind on rent, may be forced to return to Zaatari, where there is not enough space or housing.
UNHCR’s representative in Jordan, Dominic Bartsch, warned in late August that “if funding does not come quickly, it is feared that the situation will turn into a humanitarian crisis within a few months.”
A Syrian refugee living in the Zaatari camp.