At the reception centre in Zaatari refugee camp today I met some new arrivals from Syria. They made the dangerous trip to escape the violence and find a safe place for their children, and found themselves waiting on the border for over 20 days before they were allowed to cross. The families I spoke with described terrible conditions in Syria – lack of food, water, fuel and electricity. One family had seen their home burned to the ground.
These same refugees discussed the reported use of chemical weapons outside Damascus this week. Civilians have been deprived of basic necessities and they have been exposed to terrible violence for years, but the threat chemical attacks has triggered a new kind of fear. They said that they believe more Syrians will make the decision to flee. It is absolutely imperative that all Syrians are able to leave the country and find safety if they choose to.
Only 100 to 200 new arrivals are admitted to Jordan each day. New arrivals are bussed to Zaatari camp, an enormous site that currently houses about 120,000 Syrian refugees. Zaatari is Jordan’s fifth largest city, and the largest camp in Jordan. It has become a symbol of the Syria refugee crisis and a sort of hub for humanitarian assistance in Jordan. NRC distributes tents, household items and hygiene supplies to all new arrivals, as well as education, vocational training, and other services for children and young people in the camp.
Circumstances for youth are a real concern. Many of these young people have witnessed serious violence, and most have been displaced over and over again. In Jordan, they are adjusting to big changes in the family and community power dynamics. Economic pressures are forcing a lot young people into work, when they should be in school, and others are being asked to take on responsibilities within their families that they may not feel prepared for.
In Zaatari, youth have told us that they feel powerless and excluded from the decisions that affect their lives. Some have turned to violent protest out of frustration, thinking that this is the only way to make their voices heard. NRC is working to empower youth and help them to give voice to the issues that matter to them.
The camp population is big and getting bigger. A new camp – called Azraq – will open in September to accommodate about 100,000 refugees once it is complete. What the news cameras often miss is the fact that the vast majority of refugees in Jordan – over 77% – live outside of the camps. This is still a real blind spot for the humanitarian community. There is not enough information about the scope and scale of the refugee needs in urban areas. The needs of vulnerable host community members aren’t clear either. As humanitarians we need to find more innovative ways to deliver aid outside of camps.
My discussions all week with Syrian refugees have highlighted one important fact. The violence, fear and deprivation inside Syria are on the rise, and every day more people are displaced. We must find ways to deliver reliable, large scale assistance to vulnerable civilians wherever they may be in Syria. It is also absolutely essential that displaced Syrians are able to pass safely into neighbouring countries.
Once refugees arrive, it is just as important that we find ways to assess need in a systematic and comprehensive way, and deliver aid wherever it is needed – inside or outside the camps. We also need to find ways to work with host governments, to support their ability to keep borders open, and to ensure that both refugees and their own vulnerable citizens are getting the support they need.
Finally, and most importantly, there is a need for an end to the indiscriminate attacks on civilians inside Syria. Even the most effective humanitarian action will never be a solution, and what Syrian refugees truly need is an end to this conflict so they can go home safely.
Follow Jan on twitter at @NRC_Egeland, and follow his field mission at #SGsDiary.