AIRSTRIKES PUSH WAVES OF SYRIANS TO JORDANIAN CAMPS
By David D. Kirkpatrick
New York Times
September 2, 2012 (posted Sept. 1)
ZAATARI, Jordan -- The five Jamous brothers were early recruits to the Free Syrian Army, eager to oust President Bashar al-Assad.
But two weeks ago, Mr. Assad’s air force began hitting their tiny village with new force, destroying houses and killing residents. With at least three brothers wounded and their own home destroyed, the Jamouses finally handed their Russian rifles to fellow rebels and fled, vowing to deliver their wives and passel of small children to the safety of a desolate refugee camp here in the Jordanian desert before returning to battle.
“We tried to keep fighting but we can’t keep up,” said Mahmoud Jamous, 27, standing with his clan, “so we are here.”
They joined a sudden and unexpected exodus of as many as 20,000 Syrians who have poured across the border from the province around Dara’a, the birthplace and symbolic heart of the Syrian uprising. The refugees describe burned-out villages all but emptied of residents. Some say their villages were deprived of power, water, and communication for weeks before they left, or that graffiti scrawled after the shelling warned those who had fled not to return. Aid workers here who interviewed the refugees suggest there was a deliberate attempt to drive out any civilians who might sympathize with the rebels.
“The thinking may be, this is where it started, this is where it is going to finish,” one aid worker said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid entanglement in the conflict.
While rebels have boasted of gains around northern towns like Idlib and Aleppo, the testimony of refugees here indicates that at least in the south the Assad government’s overwhelming air power has knocked the rebels back on their heels. And as families like the Jamouses send away their women and children, refugees and aid workers say, the area around Dara’a is becoming a province of men: fighters, prisoners, and the dead.
Caught between the violence at home and the squalor of the camps, some have even begun to question their support for the 18-month-old insurrection.
A former colonel in the army said he would not have defected to join the rebels had he known he would end up in a refugee camp. “We thought the regime would collapse in two months,” said the colonel, who gave his name as Mohamed Sultan.
“The Syrians are getting killed in a war between Saudi Arabia and Iran,” he said, referring to regional supporters of the two sides.
The refugees cross the border at night under the protection of rebels, and some of those fleeing arrive wounded by the bullets of the government soldiers trying to stop them, said Andrew Harper, the top official of the United Nations refugee agency in Jordan, in charge of its camps. Some are killed trying to cross.
But since the air assaults picked up about two weeks ago, Syrians have been arriving at a rate of about 2,000 a night, up from about 500 a night before that and hitting a peak of more than 5,000 in just 36 hours about five days ago, making the Zaatari camp here the fastest-growing in any of the three countries housing Syrian refugees.
Nearly half of the refugees here are younger than 12, and women outnumber men almost two to one. Those ratios are expected to grow even more lopsided, Mr. Harper said, because some men deliver their families and return.
Over the last week, hundreds of people have boarded buses back to Syria, most of them men, said aid workers. “Dying there is better than the slow death here,” said Mohamed Salama, pushing for a place on a bus Saturday to the border so he could join the Free Syrian Army.
The Jordanian military keeps about 1,400 Syrian army and police defectors in a separate facility here, with limited chances to visit their families, a common practice to avoid the militarization of the civilian camps.
But at the main Zaatari camp, about 25,000 people remain in a vast city of white tents turned yellow by lashing sand that quickly coats clothes, faces, and young lungs with a thick layer of fine dust. Gales and cyclones of sand blow through the endless avenues of tents, and the provision of water, electricity, bathrooms and other amenities still trails the soaring population. Just two small playgrounds serve more than 10,000 children, and there are still no plans for a school or library.
“If people come across to Zaatari, then you know they are in trouble, and the situation is really desperate,” Mr. Harper said. “Because why would you take your family over to Zaatari if you have any choice whatsoever?”
The Assad government’s air assaults on Dara’a Province have coincided with stepped-up air campaigns across the country, diplomats, and human rights groups say. Around Dara’a, the refugees say, the attacks took on new ferocity around the weekend of Aug. 18, when Muslims celebrated the end of Ramadan. “That is when the planes started coming,” said Wisal Hariri, of the emptied village of Dael, who fled without her husband but brought four children, ages 5 to 15.
Instead of the sporadic attacks that took place over the summer, the refugees said, government forces began using helicopter gunships and fixed-wing aircraft to strafe and shell villages near Dara’a, the provincial capital.
Taking back the city that set off the uprising would be a potent psychological victory for the government at a moment when some analysts had begun to write its obituary. The aerial campaign appears to be a brutal attempt at “draining the swamp,” in the parlance of counterinsurgency, by displacing the sympathetic communities that have provided the rebels succor and shelter.
Many refugees said that the air assaults had now eliminated any safe haven in Dara’a Province, which has a population of about 1.5 million. Aid workers at the camp said some arriving refugees had reported as many as five previous relocations within the area to hamlets considered free of any violence, before leaving the province.
“Before I would go to the villages when the attacks would happen,” said Bassam Ayyesh, 30, a builder. “They would attack and leave. But now all the villages have been destroyed or are under attack, so there is no place to go, no safety.” He had fled with his wife, his two children, and the family of a sister whose husband was killed in the fighting.
Aid workers say some have fled Dara’a for the relatively peaceful area around the predominantly Druse city of Suwayda, raising the prospect of a new outpouring of refugees if the violence follows.
Jordan, a country of six million with few natural resources, has accepted as many as 180,000 Syrians since the conflict began, and the United Nations refugee agency says more than 72,000 are receiving its aid. On Saturday, Jordan and the United Nations refugee agency said they urgently needed $700 million in donations to help manage the crisis.
Some say ousting Mr. Assad would be worth the sacrifice. “I am willing to stay all my life here to be rid of Bashar,” said Mohamed, 33, a car mechanic from Damascus. (Like others in the camp, he withheld his full name for the safety of family still in Syria.) He stood over two of his six children, a small daughter holding her 8-month-old brother.
The daughter, Nour el Hoda, 11, said she was glad to be out of Syria. “I was scared of the missiles,” she said. But life in the camp, too, was “horrible.” She said she did nothing all day and missed her toys and reading.
Another resident, also named Mohamed, 34, arrived at the camp from Dara’a at about 1:00 a.m. Friday. He was designated by his family to accompany his wife, a sister and seven children. “There is not a rock on top of a rock any more in our village,” he said, choking back tears. “Everything is destroyed.”
Was the revolt worth it? “We wish we had started 20 years ago,” a bystander interjected.
Mohamed was not so sure, and worried for his children. “We didn’t expect this revolution to go on for so long.”
Khidam Owair, 43, with 10 children of her own, called the camp unfit for human life. Her seven days here already felt like seven years, she said. “We are living here like donkeys, like dogs,” she said. “No one can live in this humiliation.”
But in her Syrian village, Dael, she said, “It is over. Fear. Death. Everybody left. It doesn’t even exist anymore. Assad is bombing us five times a day.” She had no regrets about the revolt, she said, and planned to go back the moment Mr. Assad gave up power.
--Ranya Kadri contributed reporting.
ZAATARI TRAILERS TO 'KICKSTART' SYRIA REBUILDING PROCESS
MENAFN (Middle East North Africa Financial Network)
September 2, 2012
Jordan is studying a proposal to grant Syrian refugees "ownership" of residential trailers to be introduced in the Zaatari camp, allowing families to take the mobile housing with them when they return to their homeland, according to the U.N.
The move would be aimed at aiding the post-conflict transition for displaced Syrians, many of whom have lost their homes to aerial bombardments and clashes between Syrian government and rebel forces, U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Representative Andrew Harper told the *Jordan Times*.
"Under this proposal, Syrians will be able to return home right away once the conflict is over and begin rebuilding their lives, rather than wait for the international community to step up," Harper said.
The initiative would shorten the post-conflict stay of thousands of Syrian refugees, whose presence is estimated to cost the Kingdom over $400 million next year.
The Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization (JHCO) has announced that it will soon introduce dozens of trailers to the camp in a bid to upgrade housing facilities from the current plastic triage tents, which residents say do not protect them from the extreme desert weather conditions.
According to JHCO Secretary General Ayman Mifleh, officials aim to house 7,000 of the camp's 25,500 residents in trailers within the next month with the support of funding from Saudi Arabia and Oman.
Despite the contributions, the U.N. warns that officials require "millions more" in assistance to fully upgrade Zaatari's facilities.
Amman's ability to provide Syrians trailer "ownership" rests on the international community's response to a $429 million aid appeal launched by Jordan and the UN last week, $150 million of which is reserved for Zaatari camp renovations, according to relief officials.
In the face of a daily refugee influx that has reached as high as 4,000 persons per day, the authorities are racing to expand the camp, located on the outskirts of the border city of Mafraq, whose population is projected to grow to 80,000 by the end of the year.
JORDAN SEEKS $700mn IN AID FOR SYRIA REFUGEES
September 1, 2012
AMMAN -- Jordan needs $700 million in international aid to cope with an influx of 240,000 refugees from the conflict across the border in Syria, its planning and international cooperation minister said on Saturday.
"The cost for Jordan to continue to welcome our Syrian brothers . . . is almost $700 million, to take in over 240,000 residents and refugees at Zaatari camp and outside," Jaafar Hassan told a joint news conference with the U.N. refugee agency.
He said the Jordanian government would not be able to provide aid to the refugees without international assistance.
"Jordan needs to be supported at this time," U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative Andrew Harper told reporters, urging the international community to "do whatever is possible to help."
"We are going to see many more Syrians coming to cross the border. I can't see any indicator this number will be reduced," he said.
There are currently 177,000 Syrians in Jordan, with around 26,000 in the Zaatari refugee camp, north of Amman, that the UNHCR opened five weeks ago, according to the minister.
Clashes broke out in the Zaatari camp on Tuesday over living conditions, following a massive influx of refugees reported by officials.
Prime Minister Fayez Tarawneh said the next day that Jordan would expel those who had attacked police at the camp and pledged to improve conditions, after stone-throwing Syrian refugees wounded more than 20 officers.
"Anyone who has been to Zaatari camp knows it is a difficult place . . . It is only one month old and it already has 25,000 people," Harper said at the news conference.
At least 1.2 million people have been displaced by the Syrian conflict which erupted 17 months ago, according to the United Nations. Almost 229,000 refugees have been officially registered in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.
"Jordan is one of the victims of the Syrian crisis," said Information Minister Samih Maayatah, who was also at Saturday's conference.
JORDAN MAY OPEN SECOND SYRIAN REFUGEE CAMP IF INFLUX CONTINUES
By Mohammad Tayseer
September 1, 2012
Jordan may open a second refugee camp if the influx of people escaping conflict in Syria continues at the same pace, Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Jafar Hassan said.
The Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan has 25,000 people and is receiving an average of about 1,500 more a day, he told reporters in Amman, the capital, today.
Fighting between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebels trying to end his rule has forced civilians to seek refuge in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. More than 23,000 people have died since the uprising began in March last year, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Jordan will spend $160 million this year and $200 million next year to provide services to the refugees, Hassan said. The total number of Syrians who entered Jordan since the start of the unrest is 177,000, he said.
SYRIA FIGHTING SPARKS REFUGEE CRISIS IN JORDAN
By Cassandra Nelson
August 29, 2012
I've spent the past week working in the Za'atari refugee camp in northern Jordan, about six miles from the Syrian border. The camp was opened less than a month ago to receive Syrians fleeing the violence in their country.
Built on a barren desert plain without a tree or shrub in sight, it can seem an unwelcoming place to arrive, even for a refugee.
Dust storms and scorching heat have taken their toll on refugees and aid workers here. But given that less than 4% of Jordanian land is arable the terrain is not a surprise.
Over 20,000 Syrian refugees have moved into Za'atari camp already, and the pace of new arrivals to the camp has more than doubled, with more than 14,000 arriving in the past week alone. Yesterday, we received over 3,000 new arrivals overnight, up from an average of 600 per day just last week.
The refugee flow to Jordan has a direct correlation with the situation inside Syria. As fighting has escalated around Syria's southern city of Dara'a, where the uprising began almost 18 months ago, the number of refugees here is increasing dramatically. We are all bracing for a potentially massive influx in the coming days.
Yesterday, I met many newly-arrived refugees, some just children, who told me how had they witnessed family members and neighbors being killed in Syria. One 7-year old girl told me she saw her neighbor's throat cut in front of her. Her family fled in the dark of night, walking several hours before they could cross into Jordan. Like every refugee I have met here, they weren't able to bring any belongings -- they came with only the clothes on their backs.
Humanitarian aid organizations and U.N. agencies have been working around the clock to accommodate the sudden increase in new arrivals of refugees, while also working to improve the conditions. But the camp is growing exponentially and it is hard to keep up.
I met with camp manager Mahmoud Amoush of the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization yesterday -- he told me, "We need more of everything."
More tents, improved water systems, more safe spaces, and playgrounds for children and psycho-social counseling for children who have been traumatized are all top priorities.
I have spoken with many mothers here, and most report that their children have terrible nightmares and are not behaving normally -- either they are being very aggressive and misbehaving, or they are silent and afraid, running and hiding at any loud noise.
Wasfeyah, a refugee mother of five children, told me that when her family was trying to escape to Jordan, they were shot at and her eldest son, Ali, was hit in the head by a bullet. The blood from his wound sprayed on his younger brother who is just 6-years old.
Ali survived and they made it across the border, but his little brother often wakes up screaming "there is blood on my shirt." Wasfeyah doesn't have any money to buy new clothes, so the little boy still wears the blood-stained shirt from that night.
Nearly half of the camps' residents are children, and there is next to nothing for children to do here. Providing an outlet for kids who have been through unimaginable, violent events and left everything they know behind is critical to helping them recover and just be kids.
We have built one playground and another is almost completed. There are also child-friendly spaces that offer activities to kids. They are hard to miss in the camp -- just follow the unexpected sound of laughter and you will find swarms of kids singing, swinging, sliding, and occasionally arguing over who's turn it is. More playgrounds and child-friendly spaces are being planned as the camp population grows.
Improvements to the camp continue despite the massive amount of work going into accommodating new arrivals.
The quality of the food has been a major complaint from many refugees in the camps. Currently, they receive hot, pre-cooked meals that are distributed throughout the camp, but now communal kitchens are being built so families can cook for themselves.
Electricity is now installed in 40 per cent of the camp, making life a bit easier. Charging mobile phones seems to be the primary use so far, based on what I have seen in the tents I visit.
Dust and sand storms are one of the greatest challenges of living in the camps. It is not just a discomfort, but it has become a health issue and camp doctors report that they are seeing many cases of respiratory problems, especially in infants and small children, due to the dust.
Many days it is hard to see more than a few meters in front of you in the camp, as the air is thick with sand and debris that is carried by the strong winds that blow through the barren camp. One mother told me, "not even a camel could live in this place, it is so hot and dusty."
The camp has been bringing in tons of gravel that is being spread on the ground to help alleviate the problem.
Water is one of the most pressing long-term issue that faces the refugees, as well as the local Jordanian communities. Jordan has inadequate fresh water supplies for its own population, and the refugee community is putting increased demands on an already short supply.
Water is currently being trucked into the camps from local wells in the community, but Mercy Corps will be drilling a new well and developing a water system with other organizations that will serve the camp, and alleviate the need to take scarce water from the host community.
The work ahead, to provide all the desperately needed services for the refugees is daunting, but it is under way. Each day I am in the camp I see progress being made, even as we struggle to meet the pressing needs of all the new arrivals.
No one knows how long the camp will be here and when the Syrian refugees will be able to go home. Many anticipate it will be a long haul, but all of us, especially the Syrians here, are hopeful they can return soon.
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