Jordan's Za'atari refugee camp now home to 65,000 Syrians

Tuesday 29 January 2013 09.11
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Conditions are better than in Syria, but still difficult
Conditions are better than in Syria, but still difficult
One family has set up home in a classroom after they were forced to abandon their tent
One family has set up home in a classroom after they were forced to abandon their tent
Temperatures plummet at night, with little protection from the cold available
Temperatures plummet at night, with little protection from the cold available

Ray Colgan reports on the difficulties Syrian refugees face even after they have fled the country.

The scale of the Za'atari refugee camp is difficult to believe.

Just months ago, this camp which is now home to over 65,000 people, was waste-land controlled by the Jordanian army.

Most arrive here with nothing other than the clothes they wear. They line up to register and are provided with tents, buckets and mattresses.

Since the start of the year, there’s been a dramatic increase in the number of refugees crossing the border into Jordan.

It’s just 15km from the camp. Most attribute the increased numbers to the fierce fighting in the Syrian city of Dara.

With 4,000 refugees entering Jordan each night, aid agencies expect the camp will this week hold 75,000 Syrians who have fled.

They are better off than in Syria, but conditions are tough.

Most live in tents offering little shelter when temperatures plummet at night. Locals say they’ve had their worst winter in a decade. Rain floods many parts of the camp.

A classroom is now home for one family forced to abandon their tent. A clothes line is slung between stacked up school desks.

Many inside the camp are deeply traumatised by what they’ve seen in Syria. Their stories are horrific. But very few want to speak on camera. Even hiding their faces, they’re too scared.

They’re not convinced they’re beyond Bashar al-Assad’s reach. They worry about members of their families who are still in Syria. Those willing to speak privately say they fled because they feared for their children.

But some are quite insistent they want their voices heard. We meet Hamid on one of the camps muddy streets. He’s willing to talk and brings us inside the prefab he shares with his extended family of 13 people.

He says he’s wanted by the regime and has been shot several times. One teenage son was dressed as a woman, his face veiled, to allow him to escape. Another of his sons didn’t make it.

He says Abdullah, also in his teens, was shot by forces loyal to President Assad. Abdullah had been shot while hiding under a mattress.

Hamid produces a mobile phone with video of his son and others who are shot. He wants his story told.

With so little media access to Syria, video from those inside has been a key part of covering the civil war.

Tough to look at on YouTube. Even worse when you’re watching it on a phone held by the victim’s father.

Keywords: syria, za'atari
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