Support Syrian Christians
6th November 2012
The Zaatari Refugee Camp opened in Jordan, just across the Syrian border in late July 2012, and with it began a significant humanitarian crisis. On Zaatari’s first day, the numbers say some 500 Syrian refugees moved to the camp.[i] Less than two months after its opening the New York Times estimated the number of Syrian refugees to be around 38,000,[ii] a devastated mix of Muslim, Christian, Alawite and Druze that had been forced to flee their homes in Syria.
The statistics that surround refugee camps can be varied and misleading. The Zaatari camp in Jordan, recently made famous by a visit from Angelina Jolie, is no exception. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) only had about 30,000 registered Syrian refugees living in Jordan. Alternatively, the Jordanian government estimated that as many as 140,000 Syrian refugees currently resided in Jordan.[iii] If 140,000 is a correct total, then only 21 per cent of the refugee population is registered. With only 124,000 listed in the same UNHCR report registered in the region, the actual number of displaced individuals must be staggering; estimates suggest 360,000 externally displaced and many more displaced in Syria.[iv]
Perhaps the most upsetting thing about the statistics and the Zaatari camp is the emphasis on child suffering. As of late October, the oft cited Syrian Observatory of Human Rights reports that some 2,300 children have died in the Syrian conflict.[v] Sadly, out of 25,000 thousand living in Zaatari camp in early September, one half of those were children.[vi]
Numbers in reportage is painfully divergent. Just looking at the range of dead in Syria, how can any of us know the total numbers with certainty? The answer is: we can’t. Refugee and casualty reportage is painfully poor, but this is no indictment against those doing the reporting. For example, the number of refugees is painfully dependent on registration, and the humanitarian effort is, in turn, dependent on the number of registered refugees with the UNHCR. With inaccurate numbers comes inappropriate response, and more Syrians are left to suffer the consequences.
The sad fact is that many refugees do not want to identify themselves, which makes numbers in reports incredibly unreliable. For example, the trauma that leads to seeking refuge in a place like Zaatari and the increasing sectarian nature of that trauma inspires little openness. Ms Mobaslat of Save the Children reported her belief to the New York Times that many of the children in Zaatari were Shiite, Alawaite, or another religious minority, but they pretended to be Sunni Muslims for their own safety.[vii]
Meanwhile, feelings toward the camp as a step up from a war zone are shifting. In August 2012, the Zaatari camp with all of its imperfections, dust everywhere, shortages of safe food and water, riots and discontent, extreme poverty, it was viewed as a better alternative.[viii] One refugee in Zaatari, Ahmed Yassin, says that despite the difficulty of moving his family and leaving his parents and friends, he did it for his traumatized children. Despite his difficulties, ‘It’s better than before,’ he said to the BBC. But currently, dozens of Syrians are leaving every day, against the current of supply trucks and new refugees coming into Zaatari. They leave because for them, a war zone is the better alternative to a refugee camp. As many as 38,000 refugees live in a camp designed to handle 113,000 under conditions so poor as to inspire reverse migration back to a war zone from which they so recently sought refuge.[ix] One refugee, Hussain Ayish, says that ‘we face a slow death here or a fast death over there.’[x]
[i] Shaimaa Khalil, ‘Dust and Memories of Death in Jordan’s Zaatari Camp,’ BBC News, 26 Aug. 2012, url: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-19368439.
[ii] Jodi Rudoren, ‘Market Rises, Perfume and All, as Refugees Face a Long Syria War,’ New York Times, 31 Oct. 2012, url: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/01/world/middleeast/market-rises-at-zaatari-camp-for-syrian-refugees.html?pagewanted=all
[iii] ‘Jordan opens new camp for Syrian refugees amid funding gaps,’ UNHCR, 30 July 2012. http://www.unhcr.org.uk/news-and-views/news-list/news-detail/article/jordan-opens-new-camp-for-syrian-refugees-amid-funding-gaps.html?utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=twitterfeed&cHash=ccd7d6b29dace99242bb77358a303301
[v] Scott Krane, ‘Fighting continues in Syria,’ Arutz Sheva, 16 Oct 2012, url: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/160978#.UJjXicXtSat.
[vi] ‘In Syrian Conflict Children Speak of Revenge.’ New York Times.
[viii] ‘Dust and Memories of Death in Jordan’s Zaatari camp,’ BBC News.
[ix] ‘Jordan opens new camp,’ UNHCR.
[x] ‘Syrians choose war over Jordan Zaatari refugee camp,’ BBC news.