Za’atari Refugee Camp: Day 1

Six years on from my last visit to Jordan, I return not to the ancient lanes of Amman, but one of the country’s newest constructions: the Za’atari refugee camp.

As we entered through the lesser-manned entrance, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon landed and left in a flurry of APCs, helicopters and convoys of soldiers.

Ban Ki Moon departs

The camp itself is well-constructed and with estimates of 55,000 refugees currently resident and a 1,000 or more arriving daily by bus, taxi or on foot over the border, it is expanding.

As we visited the Bahraini school, a group of children pressed at the gates with strawberries painted on their cheeks.

The Bahraini School

Aged between 4 and 10, they giggled and surged forward when the guard opened to let us out.

It was Friday and they wanted to go to school, the same happens on Saturday, the guard laughed.

As we cross onto the gravel path between the tents a boy of 9 raced past, a rope tied around his waist leading to a bin lid holding his 3-year-old sister, her golden curls bouncing and she sped along the stones.

Around the corner the media had turned their cameras away from the departing helicopters and towards the inhabitants.

‘What can make your life better in the camp?’ the journalist asked. ‘Get rid of Assad and let us go back home!’ came the defiant reply.

On Souk Al Hamidiya, the re-named tarmac road running through the camp, stalls lined in a replication of the familiar, now lost.

Souk Al Hamidiya

Boots, cigarettes, playing cards and kettles followed wafts of knafa, falafel and freshly baked khobs.

The stalls are ‘mamnou’ (forbidden), but the shop-keepers are supplied by local farmers and producers, and a blind eye is turned.

It is an informal economy in an endless waiting game.

It is also a game that is racing against time.

This morning we shielded our eyes against the desert sun and children ran bare-foot.

Tonight the temperatures will fall below 10 and the humanitarian organizations are hastening to provide winter clothing and insulation.

And the camp grows and grows.

Time and conflict wait for no one.

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This entry was posted on December 7, 2012 by in Jordan, Syria and tagged , , , .
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