ZA'ATARI REFUGEE CAMP, Jordan — A city that’s not a city, Jordan’s Zaatari camp sits just across the border and houses more than 100,000 Syrians. Located in desert terrain, the ground is so white and dusty it almost looks as though it is snowing. The majority of refugees live in tents provided by UN refugee agency UNHCR, with the more fortunate housed in 'caravans' – prefab buildings which have the bonus of flooring. Makeshift shops line the main thoroughfares selling many things, from candyfloss to cigarettes.
In a reminder that the cycle of life goes on, 13-15 babies are born in Zaatari every day. So far all but one birth have been attended. Munrina Shabal, a midwife working in the camp, 'retired' 15 years ago, but gets up at 5am and takes two buses to Zaatari five days a week. The UN Population Fund has three centres in the camp, providing antenatal and postnatal care, and offering family planning to married women. They train young people as peer-to-peer educators and have specific women’s spaces or “oases” to offer counselling on gender-based violence, a growing characteristic of war.
Zaatari camp was built to accommodate 60,000 refugees. It is now at capacity and security is fragile despite a heavy police presence. There have been riots around food distribution centres and aid agencies are increasingly worried for the security of the refugees and their staff. A new site has been established at Azraq, which was originally set up for Iraqi refugees that never came. Azraq is even more remote than Zaatari and footage from the camp looks as if it was taken on the moon. It is difficult to imagine it being habitable but the Norwegian Refugee Council has begun work on the key infrastructure and expects to be ready to receive refugees by early May.
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