A decade on, majority of Zaatari residents still want to return to Syria

Camp recorded over 25,000 births since 2012

zaatri camp
Syrian refugees posing for the camera at the Zaatari Refugee Camp in this file photo. (Photo: Shutterstock)
AMMAN — The Zaatari camp, temporary home to over 80,000 Syrian refugees, has recorded some 25,000 births since its establishment 10 years ago until June this year, according to information posted on the UNHCR’s website. اضافة اعلان

Children under the age of 18 make up about half of the camp’s population, according to UNHCR’s Filippo Grandi.

According to the UN refugee agency’s website, few of these children went beyond the camp’s boundaries, receiving health care in the camp, and education through the Ministry of Education schools there.

The camp was established in July 2012, when 450 Syrians fleeing the fighting in their country crossed the desert across the border into Jordan. Later that day, they became the first residents of the then-opened Zaatari refugee camp.

In just a year, the camp’s population rose to 120,000, and the tents that provided a temporary roof for the refugees in the first weeks and months were replaced by thousands of metal shelters. Roads, schools, and hospitals were built to meet the needs of the people living there, and shops and small businesses began to appear, run by ambitious refugees.

A decade after the camp’s opening, its population has stabilized at about 80,000; it is still considered the largest refugee camp in the Middle East, one of the largest in the world, and a symbol of the protracted Syrian refugee crisis.

In 2013, the tents were replaced with fixed prefabricated shelters, “caravans”, numbering about 25,000 and having a life span of six to eight years, which means that most of them are now in need of urgent repair. According to a recent assessment, more than 70 percent of shelters now have substandard walls, floors, and ceilings.

With regard to health care, primary health clinics are deployed in the camp to treat patients who reach them through the existing ambulance service. The clinics provide about 25,000 medical consultations per month, while the most serious cases are referred to hospitals in neighboring towns and cities.

The solar power station in Zaatari started operation in 2017 to provide clean energy and electricity to refugee families. At first, its goal was to generate electricity and provide energy for about 12 hours a day, which contributed to changing the camp’s lifestyle, as markets started being able to work at night, and streets became safer after dark, but in recent months, UNHCR had to cut electricity supply to nine hours a day to manage costs as demand for electricity rises.

Employment remains the most prominent challenge for refugees in the camp, as only 4.8 percent of its residents hold work permits. Work permits are granted to Syrian refugees in Jordan for employment in any sector available to non-Jordanians, including agriculture, construction, services, and basic industries.

As the effects of the pandemic continue to pressure Jordan’s economy, the lack of job opportunities for refugees and Jordanians alike has pushed more camp residents to take high-risk jobs or fall in to debt. Today two-thirds of refugee families in Zaatari report being in debt.

Data collected by UNHCR also shows that the majority of camp residents still want to return to Syria in the future, and that most of them believe that it is still not safe to do so at the present time. The longing for their country is still strong, even among the younger generation who have not seen their native land.

Traditions passed on over generations help preserve Syrian heritage in the camp, thanks to the strong community ties that have developed there over the past 10 years.

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