Syria's Refugees: A Photo Essay

2017-01-23 18:40

Azraq refugee camp in Jordan, where about 60 000 Syrian refugees live.

Due to the prolonged, changing and complex nature of the crisis in Syria many Syrians are seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. A large number of these refugees live in Zatari and Azraq refugee camps, the two main Syrian camps in Jordan. In January 2017, along with a Doctor and other friends, I visited the Azraq camp to capture the daily life of its residents. Azraq Refugee Camp is controlled and administered by the Jordanian authorities in conjunction with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The Azraq camp is about 100 kilometres from the Syrian border. In general while speaking to the refugees, they are very grateful and happy to be in a safe place, and be able to live a life when so many others they know are not as lucky as them. The refugees I spoke to had unbelievable and heart- rending stories of pain, suffering, sadness and hope to tell. My main aim was to experience first-hand the life of refugees, study forced migration and issues affecting refugees, study their needs, emotions, vacuums in their lives and to tell the dreams and stories of the refugees to all in order to holistically improve their lives.

The inside of a refugee cabin has just the minimum basic necessities. In one cabin I was told the parents have twelve children. I subtly tried to probe the reasons for the high rate of new born babies in the camp. Various reasons were given such as lack of knowledge about family planning methods as most Syrian refugees in the camp come from rural areas, young couples generally want to have more children to balance the deaths that occurred in their families and re-populate their villages in Syria, religious beliefs, reluctance from husbands and one strange theory I heard was that some chemical is released in the brain during a crisis or under stressful conditions and this chemical increases the fertility rate.

Like this possible skin cancer victim I saw several other cases that required specialised treatment. Some didn’t even have the cash to purchase medication. His wife became very emotional while relating his symptoms to the doctor.

A small food parcel and a blanket was given to the neediest of needy refugee shelters as our resources were very limited, I realised the need for food was huge. Large number of refugees began following us in the hope of receiving a hamper and a blanket. Upon making some enquiries about the food situation I was told food is distributed according to the number of calories a refugee needs. A pre-loaded card is issued to every refugee and the refugee has to go to a central point, which the refugees call market, to collect their food items according to the calorie recommendation. According to our guide the harsh desert climate and the camp situation was not taken into account when calculating the calories and therefore the hunger pangs and poverty. One little girl followed us the entire day in the hope of receiving a food hamper. She cried and begged us for a hamper. This really made me feel hurt, disturbed and sad. I can still clearly visualise her in my mind. Unfortunately, due to us having to follow strict camp protocols and rules we could not give her anything even a sweet as she did not fall within the needs assessment criteria of our hosts. These rules and protocols of the camp have to be strictly followed as chaos, disruptive and riot behaviour can very quickly arise in the camp.

Law and order and other security issues at the camp are carried out very professionally by the Community Police Assistant Programme (CPAP). CPAP members are mainly retired officers from the Jordanian Public Security Department (PSD). The CPAP members are very jovial, respected by the refugees, believe in humanitarian causes and have good and diverse experience as most of them had served in peacekeeping missions around the globe.

For the hundreds of thousands of refugee families living in neighbouring countries like Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon often the children there do not attend school as they will have to go out and work in order to earn some money to help feed their families. It was so good to see children at the Azraq refugee camp with their backpacks on their backs coming from school, keeping up the high tradition Middle Eastern parents place on education. Generally in such miserable circumstances, schooling tends to take back seat as refugees place more emphasis on survival needs then schooling. It’s through education that their lives can improve.

With no end in sight to the Syrian conflict and with other refugees streaming in from Iraq, Palestine and Gaza, Jordan is at a “tipping point”. Soon the dam walls may burst. Before that happens the international community, global leaders and conscious driven people must find an amicable end to the Syrian and refugee crisis. Like other refugee camps in Jordan, for example the Zarqa refugee camp in Jordan was established for refugees who left Palestine as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, it is now permanent and resembles other less privileged suburbs in Jordan. The camp is still in existence and is regarded as the oldest Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan. If serious and constructive intervention is not implemented to stop the Syrian conflict, this rapidly expanding refugee camp in Azraq may eventually become another permanent camp in Jordan.

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