Massive camp in Jordan for refugees opens

May 01, 2014 - 12:48:25 am
Syrian refugees carry bags after collecting food from a supermarket at a camp that opened in Azraq, in the Jordanian eastern desert, some 100km east of Amman, yesterday.

AZRAQ REFUGEE CAMP, Jordan: A massive camp opened in Jordan’s eastern desert yesterday for refugees fleeing the war in neighbouring Syria with the United Nations appealing for more aid.

The 15-square-kilometre Azraq camp can accommodate up to 50,000 people but the UN High Commissioner for Refugees says it can be expanded to take in 130,000, making it one of the biggest in the world.

“It is probably the biggest refugee camp in the world,” UNHCR representative, Andrew Harper, told the opening ceremony. “What you see when you drive around is possibly one of the best planned refugees camp in the world.” 

Jordan has taken in nearly 600,000 refugees from Syria since the war broke out three years ago and is now home to three camps, including the densely populated Zaatari.

Located some 100km east of Amman, Azraq will help take some of the pressure off Zaatari, which is home to more than 100,000 refugees. A much smaller camp is Mureijeb Fhud, northeast of the Jordanian capital, which houses nearly 4,000 refugees.

In Azraq, around 5,000 shelters have been erected to house up to 25,000 refugees, but only 437 have moved into the new camp since Monday, according to the UN.

“We arrived in Azraq after a 10-day trip, fleeing from Homs,” Khaled Diab, 38, said, sporting a full beard and wearing a red-and-white keffiyeh. Carrying two bags of groceries he bought from a large supermarket in Azraq, Diab said he fled to Jordan with his wife, five children, mother and sister.

Each refugee gets a 24-dinar ($34) voucher every month to buy food and other items from the supermarket.

“The camp is good but we are still waiting to get electricity. Also we have to walk a few kilometres in order to get water. We also need fans and television. These things are basics,” Diab said.

Rows of white shelters spreading out across the desert are divided into seven villages, each of which can accommodate between 10,000 and 15,000 people. 

Four villages are ready while the others are still under construction, according to the UN.

“Thank God we are here... far away from the shelling. We will get used to living in the camp,” said Yasser 33, who fled the Damascus countryside three days ago, along with 39 of his relatives.

Unlike the tents and caravans found in Zaatari, the zinc and steel shelters in Azraq have been designed to better cope with the high winds and extreme temperatures of the desert, the UNHCR said. “Finally... now we can sleep. We are really tired of the war,” said Abu Mohammad, 40, a father of three.

More than 100km of road have been built inside the camp, which also has its own water distribution system and two schools and a 130-bed hospital. “It is the second largest Syrian refugee camp in Jordan and we hope it will be the last,” said Waddah Hmud, head of Jordan’s Syrian Refugee Affairs Directorate.

Harper and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh called for international support. Jordan “is doing everything it can, it has opened its border, it has provided space for refugees here. But then it is up to the international community to do much more to mitigate the impact,” Harper said.

He told diplomats that “what we do need is additional support, not in the short term, but very much in the long term.”

In December, the UN appealed for around $6.5bn for victims of Syria’s war, while a total of $2.3bn  was pledged at the Kuwait donor conference in January. “The international community should do its part to help Jordan cope with the huge economic and social burden of hosting the refugees,” Judeh said. He also called for a “political solution” to help end the war in Syria and stop the influx of refugees.