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[IN PICTURES] Zaatari: The camp Syrians call home

Refugee camp’s fifth-year anniversary is a reminder of protracted Syrian conflict that destabilised Middle East

Staff Reporter
31 July 2017, 10:00am
Over the last five years, the Norwegian Refugee Council has trained more than 7,500 Syrians in new vocational skills in Zaatari, and hosted more than 6,000 children in its education centres
Over the last five years, the Norwegian Refugee Council has trained more than 7,500 Syrians in new vocational skills in Zaatari, and hosted more than 6,000 children in its education centres
Last Saturday, July 29, the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan marked its fifth anniversary. The temporary camp set up five years ago to welcome the mass exodus of refugees from the Syrian war, is now a town housing 80,000 Syrian refugees.

What started off as a peaceful protest in Daraa in 2011 has mutated into a brutal war that forced over five million Syrians to flee their country. Only a tiny fraction of them are in Zaatari camp, but the majority of the camp residents come from that village where it all started.

“In the beginning there were only tents, with thousands of refugees arriving every day after taking the dangerous walk from Syria to Jordan. Now it is a little city of 80,000 displaced for far too long, living in caravans,” said Karl Schembri, media adviser in the Middle East for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

Syrian refugee Anwar, from Daraa, was one of the first refugees to enter Zaatari camp and now teaches carpentry, blacksmithing and painting
Syrian refugee Anwar, from Daraa, was one of the first refugees to enter Zaatari camp and now teaches carpentry, blacksmithing and painting
The camp was meant as a temporary solution to host refugees who would soon go back to their homes in Syria. The Norwegian Refugee Council was one of the first agencies to work in Zaatari. Today they provide shelter, distribution of essential items, informal education for children and vocational training for youth.

“Conditions were relatively bad, but acceptable, because we only looked for safety,” Syrian refugee Anwar, from Daraa, said – Anwar was one of the first refugees to enter Zaatari camp.

Many Syrian children were born in this camp and have never seen what lies beyond it
Many Syrian children were born in this camp and have never seen what lies beyond it
“We used to have shared washrooms. There was no water sometimes. We had no electricity. The shops weren’t there.

"Now the camp is completely different. There are many more facilities and services. There are no more tents; everyone is living in prefabs. We feel more at home now.”

Today Anwar teaches carpentry, blacksmithing and painting in one of NRC’s youth centres inside Zaatari camp. 

The camp was meant as a temporary solution to host refugees who would soon go back to their homes in Syria
The camp was meant as a temporary solution to host refugees who would soon go back to their homes in Syria
Over the last five years, NRC has trained more than 7,500 Syrians in new vocational skills in Zaatari, and hosted more than 6,000 children in its education centres. So far, they have provided maintenance to 24,000 caravans.

“They can earn an income and pay for themselves so they don’t become a burden for others. Vocational skills provide a safety net in one’s life,” Anwar said. His son Hamzeh was born in the camp.

“He doesn’t know anything except for caravans and tents,” Schembri continued. “What we care about is that these youth will one day return to Syria, and their homes will probably be damaged or destroyed. With these skills they can start repairing their houses instead of hiring others. Anwar’s optimism is the kind of inspiration that keeps us going, and it is perhaps the one thing we should be celebrating today, on this fifth birthday of a refugee camp called Zaatari.”

This fifth anniversary illustrates the protracted nature of the Syrian refugee crisis. Many Syrian children were born in this camp and have never seen what lies beyond it. The NRC says prosperous countries should share the responsibility of hosting Syrian refugees by increasing resettlement pledges and other forms of legal admissions, including family reunification.

Over the last five years, NRC has trained more than 7,500 Syrians in new vocational skills in Zaatari
Over the last five years, NRC has trained more than 7,500 Syrians in new vocational skills in Zaatari
“In those early days I remember a refugee father,” continued Schembri, “who had just arrived, totally distraught and depressed by his family’s predicament. ‘Will we end up like the Palestinians?’ he asked me, referring to the millions of stateless people who have been unable to return to their land since Israel was established.

“It was hard then and it is as hard now, for the refugees whose only wish is to be able to return home to safety. Seven years into the war, Syria remains for Syrian refugees around the world an unsafe place to return to,” Schembri said.

The NRC says prosperous countries should share the responsibility of hosting Syrian refugees by increasing resettlement pledges and other forms of legal admissions, including family reunification
The NRC says prosperous countries should share the responsibility of hosting Syrian refugees by increasing resettlement pledges and other forms of legal admissions, including family reunification