[A heavily edited (i.e. censored) version of this article was published in the Emirati newspaper The National under a different title (“UAE camp cares for the most vulnerable among Syrian refugees”). The first text below is what I originally wrote, the second is the one appeared in The National].
(Zaatari- Mrajeeb al-Fuhud, JORDAN) Jordan hosts a registered population of 622.106 Syrian refugees, only 16% of them, those who cannot afford paying the rent, live in the three camps of Zaatari, Azraq and Mrajeeb al-Fuhud.
There is a blatant difference between the services provided in the giant UN-run Zaatari camp, which officially hosts around 84.000 refugees and the small efficient Emirates Red Crescent (ERC)’s Mrajeeb al-Fuhud camp, which is home to almost 5.000 refugees: in Zaatari residents are struggling to cover their daily expenses and children drop out overcrowded classes, whereas Mrajeeb delivers high-standard services in all fields.
Some humanitarian workers have already questioned the choice of setting up an A-level camp serving such a small proportion of refugees, but the ERC staff vow to maintain the same standards by focusing on a limited number of vulnerable beneficiaries. While the closely monitored residents can hardly find anything to complain about, the Mrajeeb al-Fuhud camp is still bound to remain a drop in the ocean in a country overwhelmed by the refugee influx such as Jordan.
As the Syrian war precipitated into a deadlock with no solution in sight, Zaatari has evolved into a proper settlement with a thriving souq, similarly to the Palestinian camps of the region, though in a no-man’s land in the middle of the Jordanian desert. In such dire conditions, most Syrians keep living up to their own right to return.
“We still hope to go back to Syria,” Lina (33) from Eastern Ghouta (Damascus) told The National, hiding her face covered by tears, “we don’t want our kids to grow up here.”
Lina has repeatedly tried to register her two children in one of the threeschools of the camp, but every time she was told that they had already reached the maximum number of enrolments. It has been two years since they attended the last class.
According to Mahmud Sadaqa (48), a Palestinian Jordanian volunteer, parents are often not supportive enough when it comes to education.
“Ignorance affects negatively education, parents are psychologically unstable, they keep thinking that they will go back to Syria tomorrow,” said Sadaqa.
Nonetheless, some families still encourage their children to pursue their studies and hold on to their dreams.
“I want to become a lawyer to defend the oppressed people,”Ghufran (12) toldThe National,“(…) we’re 60 students in my class… at first I stopped going to school, but then my mother convinced me to go back.”
Food and medicines are available, but all families struggle to meet ends without any source of income, particularly those where the father went missing.
“My husband has been in jail for one year in Syria, (…) the [ World Food Program] vouchers [N/A 20D (103 AED) each month per family member ] are not enough to buy clothes for my five kids,” said Yusra Yusuf al-Masri (38) from Daraa, sitting on a mattress in front of her container, which was too small to host us.
Her desperate situation would actually comply with the entry conditions of the Emirati camp, which focuses on women, children, big families, orphans, disabled and elderly people, while denying access to single men.
The National visited Mrajeeb al-Fuhud shortly after Zaatari, escorted by a member in a leather jacket of the Jordanian security forces and the ERC staff, who took us on a ‘cruise’ of the camp on a golf cart.
By arguing these measures were taken to preserve our safety, the security agent took notes of the names of the interviewees, departing from us only upon request. However, the refugees denied the existence of any restriction on freedom of speech.
Differently from Zaatari, up to two family members have the right to be employed in the camp, depending on the size of the family.
“I used to be a muezzin before, so they promised me a job as muezzin also here in the camp,” Shafiq Abdul-Bari Mohsen (65) told The National, “at least I can send money back home, since I have another wife with twelve kids in Syria.”
Everything is methodically organized in sectors in the camp. There are around 30 students per class and even the children look incredibly disciplined.
“Children politely approached the ERC staff, as if they had been taught to do so, whereas in Zaatari they did not hesitate to play with us straight away,” noted Estella Carpi, a University of Sydney doctoral researcher in anthropology, who was conducting field work in Mrajeeb al-Fuhud.
That said, the residents praise loudly the meticulous administration of the Emirati camp in comparison with Zaatari.
“In Zaatari there were always tensions due to the lack of any sort of regulation,” Hussein al-Sari (40) from Eastern Ghouta toldThe National.
In Mrajeeb al-Fuhud there are no tents, only containers. Residents enjoy 24/7 hot water and a selected menu.
“The wishes of the refugees come first: the menu is changed according to their preferences,” Omar al-Swaidi, a member of the ERC administration, toldThe National.
On the other hand, the ERC staff do not eat with the refugees, they have a separate canteen, where they are reminded of their high living standards in the Emirates.
“Listen…we’re used to luxury in the Gulf, I spend 24 hours per day here in the camp, but I need to relax while I’m not working and I am not used to eating bamia [N/A:ladies’ fingers] like Syrians do,” said ERC member Said Shami with a peaceful smile.
As mentioned, some humanitarian workers have been critical of the amount of resources spent on such a small scale project, but the ERC personnel defended their commitment to support a limited number of vulnerable categories.
“Our goal is to host 10.000 people: rather than expanding the number of refugees, we prefer to focus on the weakest ones,” ERC member Said Shami toldThe National. It is worth noting that upon the inauguration of the camp in April 2013, the announced figure was 25.000.
Whether Mrajeeb al-Fuhud will host 10.000 or 25.000 people, similar figures will not relieve Jordan from the burden of the refugee influx. Asked if the UAE should accept part of the refugees back home, the ERC workers show reluctance to this issue as well as the Western governments.
“If we accept to set up camps in the Emirates, Syrians would escape and cause troubles in our country just like they are doing here in Jordan,” ERC’s Said Shami told The National.
Notwithstanding the UAE undeniable humanitarian efforts, Syria’s poorest neighboring countries are left alone paying the highest price of destabilization.
UAE camp cares for the most vulnerable among Syrian refugees
Zaatari and Mrajeeb Al Fuhud, JORDAN // There are more than 622,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, but only the 16 per cent who cannot afford accommodation elsewhere live in the Zaatari, Azraq and Mrajeeb Al Fuhud camps.
During a recent visit, it was clear that there is a discernible difference in the support available at the giant United Nations-run Zaatari camp, home to about 84,000 refugees in Mafraq province, and the smaller Emirates Red Crescent (ERC) camp, Mrajeeb Al Fuhud, in Zarqa, which has about 5,000.
At Zaatari residents struggle to meet their daily needs and school rooms are often overcrowded.
The ERC camp, on the other hand, delivers high-standard services in all areas. It was set up in April 2013 at a cost of Dh37 million to help ease overcrowding at the Zaatari camp. The ERC opted for a small-scale camp, as it wanted to help those most in need, such as orphans, women, children, disabled people and big families. Single men are not accommodated at the site.
While some humanitarian workers question the decision to set up an A-grade camp that serves a small quota of refugees, ERC staff say they are only able to maintain standards by focusing on a limited number of the most vulnerable refugees.
As the Syrian conflict continues, Zaatari has evolved into a mini-city with a thriving souq, similar to Palestinian camps elsewhere in the region.
“We still hope to go back to Syria,” said Lina, 33, from Damascus. She hid her face and cried as she spoke. “We don’t want our kids to grow up here.”
Lina has repeatedly tried to register her two children in one of the three schools at Zaatari. However, classes are full. It has been two years since her children last attended school.
Despite the fact that the schools are full, there remain parents who are not sufficiently supportive of education for their children, said Mahmud Sadaqa, 48, a Palestinian-Jordanian volunteer at the camp.
“They keep thinking that they will go back to Syria tomorrow,” Mr Sadaqa said.
Nonetheless, some families encourage their children to pursue their studies and their dreams.
“I want to become a lawyer to defend the oppressed,” said Ghufran, a 12-year-old girl. There are 60 pupils in her class, and difficulties at the camp forced her to stop attending at one point. Her mother, however, convinced her to return.
Food and medicine are available, but families struggle to make ends meet without a steady income, particularly those where the father is absent.
“My husband has been in jail for one year in Syria,” said Yusra Yusuf Al Masri, 38, from Deraa. She receives World Food Programme vouchers worth about Dh100 each month for each member of her family, but it is “not enough to buy clothes for my five kids”.
The National was able to visit Mrajeeb Al Fuhud shortly after Zaatari, escorted by a Jordanian security forces member and ERC staff.
In the Emirati camp, up to two family members have the right to work on site, depending on family size, and school class fit between 25 and 30.
“I used to be a muezzin, so they promised me the same job here in the camp,” said Shafiq Abdul-Bari Mohsen. “I can send money home since I have another wife with 12 kids in Syria.”
Residents of Mrajeeb Al Fuhud praised the administration of the camp. “In Zaatari, there were always tensions due to the lack of any sort of regulation,” said Hussein Al Sari, 40, from Eastern Ghouta. There are no tents in Mrajeeb Al Fuhud, only trailers. Residents have access to hot water around the clock, and have food options.
“The wishes of the refugees come first,” said Omar Al Swaidi, a member of the ERC administration. “The menu is changed according to their preferences.”
Fellow ERC member Said Shami said: “Our goal is to host 10,000 people. Rather than expanding the number of refugees, we prefer to focus on the weakest.”