Zaatari: the biggest Syrian town in Jordan

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by Pauline Mettan, translated by Charlotte Grey

Demographic pressure has become too much for our country. Jordan has opened its doors to more than 560,000 Syrian refugees since the conflict began, with 70% being women and children. Within a year, refugees will be 40% of our population. 96% of our energy is imported. Water is scarce. Our budget deficit is sky high. How can we keep up this poor balancing act when wave upon wave of immigrants are draining our already rare resources?

And brace yourself for another blow: the biggest town in Jordan today is the Zaatari refugee camp. Less than 20km from the Syrian border, it is one of the biggest refugee camps in history. How can we ignore what’s happening there? Every day, the cries of new-born babies echo in our heads. Children’s faces pressed up against the railings of their salutary prison are carved on our hearts. Sometimes, they manage to get through the barbed wire, exposing themselves to armed soldiers, and then make their infinitely idle way through the dusty streets in the surrounding villages. And how do they alleviate their boredom? By reselling humanitarian material to the Jordanian mafia. They would pay a lot to be at school.

If you were to climb the small hill at Tel Saki, you can see the labyrinthine town of Zaatari in the distance, which stretches out as far as the eye can see. The frail humanity here has small hope of returning home. This seething ant’s nest is little by little gaining structure, and becoming a social and political environment with class differences, internal economics, dangers, and fears. Small plastic and aluminium caravans distributed by humanitarian aid, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia have replaced the tents. Like everything else here, the caravans are moved around, bought and sold, stolen, and cut up. Taxis go up and down the few paved streets Alleyways are reserved for emerging businesses: as the ultimate snub to poverty, the most well-known of these alleys is the “Champs-Elysées”. An uncontrolled web of electric wires sits above the camp – a constant reminder of stolen energy.

Is it possible to find an agreement between the “two camps that don’t understand compromise”, wonders Prince Hamzah bin Al Hussein. As a result of the increasing overcrowding, violence is on the up. The few Syrian refugees who cooperate with the Jordanian police and security forces are “socially rejected” by the camp. The wind raises a red and cruel dust. Will our small and fragile Jordan be able to resist the tide of the Arab Spring? Will we have to pay the price for our hospitality?

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