The Syrian Zaatari Refugee camp near Mafraq, Jordan. Some people may consider it as a haven from the hardships that plagued the Syrians in their own country yet I have not heard anything as wrong. I visited the refugee camp with my father about two months ago. While it is extremely hard to put their suffering into words, I will attempt it. Their story is a story that deserves to be told but has not been.
Upon entering the camp the first thing that I saw is the large amount of people. I have rarely seen so many people together in such an enclosed space. There are fences built with guards posted every dozen or so feet. People are not allowed into the camp unless they have permission from a minister, or if they are related to someone within the walls. Then I was struck by the vast amount of tents. They are beige tents all lined up, some for security, some for established organizations, and the rest are for the 30,000 refugees to call “home” since they had lost their real homes in Syria.
Sitting in the tent for the Jordanian Foundation, which runs the refugee camp I was able to witness the constant steam of people that came in and out. Some came to complain about their tents, about fights with other people, and about wanting to leave. Others came to criticize the hospitals, the lack of schools, and to ask for more portions of food. In the hour I spent in that cramped room, not air-conditioned, I did not hear one request granted. Yet one of the officials told me that it is not that they don’t want to grant these refugees wishes, instead it is that they do not have the ability or the resources to, because if they say the magical words of “yes” to one person the remaining 29,999 will expect to be rewarded with the same privilege. The president of the camp speaks to us about the horrid situation the refugees are in. How the sand is ruining their health, how there is nothing for them to do in the camp, and how there lives are a never-ending track of misery. He makes it clear he wants to make things better for them, yet he does not have the opportunity to provide them with more then he already is. He does not have the money to give every family caravans instead of tents.
After sitting in the headquarters for an hour we were escorted around the camp by one of the leading officials. Every single person that passed by him said “marhaba” a traditional Arab greeting. People loiter around, because there is nothing else for them to do. Other people slept in their tents, their feet sticking out of the flaps because their full bodies cant fit, and it is scorching hot outside. Tents have to fit entire families, and some families consist of seven people. A small amount of clothes are strewn in corners of tents and no tents have toys, refugees only came to Jordan with their backpacks filled with stuff nothing else. Women cry from homesickness, and loneliness. Men pace back and forth, trying to find things to occupy themselves with. Some families have set up small vegetable selling shacks, but they make very little money, because nobody has money to spend. Children play with old soccer balls, kicking the ground and coughing from the dust. That is basically all they have to try to build the rest of their life and their childrens’ lives on.
Little kids wave towards the camera as I attempt to subtly take pictures. Their dirty faces break into smiles as they portrayed a sense of happiness with their wide grins, and gapped teeth. Very few children walk around in shoes, and if they do wear shoes they are an old worn down pair. Some children chase each other around the tents, weaving in and around them laughing wildly. Other kids chase the water trucks or cement trucks trying to jump up onto them. Yet with this happiness there is also a great deal of sadness, these children are permanently chained to this place. If they manage to escape the refugee camp they have still lost their country, years of education, hope, and for many of them the promise for a life outside of poverty.
A man walks up to us as we are heading back towards the headquarters to meet with the president of the camp. He is walking with his son, and his face held years of misery and wisdom. He explains to the administrator of the camp with us his dilemma as his son clutches a piece of cloth and plays in the sand. The man had exchanged tents with another man in the camp, everything had been fine for a few weeks, but today that man had told him that he had family members coming from Syria. In short the man told him that he had to be out of his tent by the end of the day. The dilemma was that no other tents were available. At the end of the story, the man began to stutter, and the look on his face was enough to break my heart. He had lost one home and now he was forced out of another. The administrator told the man that unfortunately there was nothing he could do on such short notice. This man had lost his home in Syria, and now he was losing his other measly tent that had become a home.
My words cannot create the image of how horrific the life of the refugees is. Their future is dark, and their present is even darker. They are physically unwell because of the large amounts of dust in the air. They are emotionally scarred because of the memories of bombs and gunshots that rained down on their homes, of demolished houses, and dead family members, friends, and acquaintances. They have nothing to do in the camp, time is endless, and I cannot stress on the fact that they have no way to occupy their time. The children have had to become adults. While the adults have had to try and maintain their sanity.
The camp is like a never-ending illusion. The walls are confining, yet they seem at first to be a comfort to the Syrians. The rules are strict, yet at first they seem to be lenient towards its new hostages. It is not an oasis, it is not a safe haven, it is a jail.