ZA’ATARI REFUGEE CAMP, Jordan — The conflict in Syria is only eight miles away from the residents of Za’atari, the second largest refugee camp in the world. They can sometimes hear the explosions, according to one humanitarian aid worker, who noted that the proximity to the border and the conflict adds to the insecurity in the camp.
“Za’atari is the tip of the iceberg of the Syrian crisis,” said Kilian Kleinschmidt, the camp manager.
Za’atari is laid out on a stark five square miles of barren rocky desert with tents and caravans as far as the eye can see. There is not a single tree or bush or plant anywhere, nothing to break the view except coiled barbed wire around certain parts of the compounds. Conditions have improved considerably, according to those who have visited the camp in the past; however the landscape and the challenges remain daunting.
Originally set up for 10,000 people, Za’atari currently houses over 80,000 and at times has held as many as 150,000. The camp is now the fourth largest “city” in Jordan, one of the places I recently worked on a field mission for Refugees International to meet with Syrian refugees.
“We walked three days in the dark, at night, afraid, carrying our two children,” said one young man, who travelled with his wife and three-year old son and one-year old daughter, trying to avoid the fighting. They finally got a ride and arrived at Za’atari, but he was concerned he wouldn’t be able to support his family.