Syrian refugee influx forces UN to open new camp in Jordan

A Syrian refugee and her newborn baby at a clinic in Ramtha, Jordan
A Syrian refugee and her newborn baby at a clinic in Ramtha, Jordan
Russell Watkins/Department for International Developmen

The Azraq refugee camp was opened this week in Jordan to respond to the continued flow of people fleeing neighboring Syria. The new facility will be the home to 130,000 refugees, becoming the largest refugee camp in the country when full.

Jordan will hold the dubious honor of being home to two of the three largest refugee camps in the world.

With already an estimated 600,000 Syrian refugees registered in Jordan, the country is struggling to keep up. The $63.5 million facility is yet another reminder of the sheer impact of the ongoing crisis in Syria.

“The camp is a testimony to the continuous deterioration of the situation in Syria, but also to the continuous commitment of the Jordanian authorities and the Jordanian people to receive refugees here,” said Bernadette Castel-Hollingsworth, head of UNHCR’s Azraq field office.

It took only thirteen months to construct the new camp. The shelters are made out of zinc and steel, providing better protection against wind and extremely high and low temperatures.

Presently, an average of 600 refugees are entering the camp each day. It is a marked improvement in living conditions for refugees as compared to Za’atri, currently the largest refugee camp in Jordan. However it is only a short term solution to a much greater problem.

“We left everything behind. Leaving your home is a hard emotional decision for everyone,” said Um Saleh, a Syrian refugee who recently arrived at Azraq refugee camp. “But we’re happy to be here and I’m glad that my family is safe.”

Her family payed more than $3,000 to escape the country. The two-day trip was frought with anxiety and fear. They learned that 28 people were killed trying to leave Syria, two days before they left.

“Several times we had to get out of the cars and spread out on foot to avoid the risk that a bomb would kill my entire family,” said Saleh’s husband Abu, to the UN.

While the UN was able to quickly complete the new refugee camp in Jordan, finances for the relief effort are still short of what is needed. Only 24% of the money requested by the UN has been received this year.

The fighting in Syria is showing little sign of ending. Meanwhile, some 9 million people have been displaced from their homes, to other parts in Syria or outside. With the protracted fighting these numbers continue to grow, putting more people in need and adding stress on the already hamstrung relief effort.

In a recent statement to the media, Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos described the worsening situation in Syria. She is urging the UN Security Council to take immediate action in order to put an end to the violence that continues in Syria.

“We’ve all seen the appalling impact: heartrending pictures of children pulled from the rubble and of families cowering in ruined buildings and medical teams racing to save lives under fire,” said Amos.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.