Official Reflects on Building Syrian Refugee Camp in Jordan

A Syrian refugee camp in Jordan Photo: AP/Scanpix
8/29/2013 12:11 PM
Category: Politics

Two Rescue Service officials have just returned from al-Azraq, Jordan, where they partook in the building of a refugee camp for Syrians, one of the world's largest facilities of its kind.

As the West decides how to react to allegations of chemical weapons attacks in Syria, Jordan is preparing to open its second refuge camp in September, housing another 130,000 people by the Syrian border. The following is an abridged version of an Eesti Päevaleht interview with one of the Estonians, Eiko Tammist.

You spent a month in Jordan on the mission. What were your duties?

There is another refugee camp in Zaatar, which can fit 120,000 refugees. That one is now full, so they are building another camp to disperse the masses. Our assignment was to build the reception center - offices, showers and so on. The settlement's headquarters and district government. The UN teams and the Red Cross, who are leading the effort on the site, can now start moving in and begin taking in people. The sheet metal shelters where people will be housed are not there yet. But the road network and bathrooms, with septic tanks and washing areas, have been built.

How many people will the camp really fit; is it possible to exceed 130,000?

It should fit 130,000, but if you look at the city streets and roadsides, there is an immense number of Syrian refuges in Jordan. Some are beggars, others go to work, they don't really get along with the locals. Our local drivers told us not to pay the refugees any attention. They weren't exactly thrilled about the refuges. Six years ago, the same site served as an Afghan refugee camp. It was demolished and now they are building one with better infrastructure, paved roads and artesian wells for water. I presume it will be there for decades, it's not a temporary camp.

So what does the al-Azraq refugee camp look like?

It is 20 kilometers from the city of Azraq; in the middle of the desert, a road has been built with small blocks. The camp's area spreads 4x7 kilometers, and it is divided into small districts. When the refugees come they will be given living quarters - floorless, 3x5-meter sheet metal shelters. One family per shelter. Everyone has a common eating area, shared bathrooms and a parking lot for those who need to park a car. There is a separate reception center where the concerns of refugees are addressed, and there are separate police and medical centers.

One shelter is meant to accommodate one family. How big can that family be?

The locals told us that the average family is five children and two adults.

The refugees who will arrive will have abandoned a lot of their belongings. Are these shelters furnished in any way?

No.

So they have whatever they brought with them and otherwise must sleep on the ground.

On the sand, yes. It seems strange, but there are a lot of American cars. Fuel is cheap. So a person will arrive driving a big fancy car up to the parking lot, then take out a laptop and head to the shelter, where there is nothing. Not even a floor.

They have bank accounts and money. But I doubt people will furbish their environment. I don't think they are coming to stay. The refugee camp includes essential supplies. But there are no cities within a 20-kilometer radius. So that means there is the possibility of building stores in the surroundings.


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