A Look into the Zaatari Refugee Camp

Author: Muhammad Hudhuh, Johns Hopkins

9/29/14

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A small, CRT TV sits atop a wooden nightstand as a news anchor lays out the most recent developments in Syria. The sound is muffled, and the picture distorted, flickering between colors. A man in a dishdasheh comes in the “guest” caravan we are sitting in with a fan, and points it directly to us. The extra cushions he gives us matches the ones we’re sitting on, as we sip the small cups of the little Turkish coffee he has. As we scribble down his family’s information, he asks us about ours. He smiles as he talks, and reminisces of life back in Syria with my coworkers, also refugees. Syria’s much greener they say, not bone dry and hot like Jordan. Nobody knows when he will get the change to go back to Syria; it could be in a week, a month, or a year. Instead of saying the traditional Arabic word “Daimeh” when a guest treats you to food or drink, my coworkers say “InshaAllah biSooria,” or “God-willing in Syria.” The host is from Dara’a, the “starting point” of the Revolution. Many of the people we have encountered in Zaatari Refugee Camp are from Dara’a.

Most Syrian refugees have fled to neighboring Lebanon, Jordan, or Turkey. Those lucky enough took the opportunity to fly to Sweden. I had the honor to work and interact with such refugees in a Jordanian refugee camp, Zaatari Refugee Camp, home to about 80,000 refugees. Syrians without papers, which to obtain you must have left Syria early on in the conflict or have connections, are required to stay within the camp borders. Deep trenches, foot soldiers, and armored Humvees with turrets line the perimeter. “It’s like a big prison,” one man related to me, “except everybody’s [family] is here with you so it doesn’t seem like it.” Surely enough, it does resemble a prison. The kitchens, bathrooms, and other public facilities all look exactly like each other, metal bars and cement. The lucky refugees get one caravan upon entrance, while those on the waiting list get tents, that also all resemble each other. The “roads,” large gaps in between patches of caravans, serve as markers for those that have been there all too long. To me, everything looked the same, apart from the one kitchen that had been painted pink 2 days prior, according to a little boy who passed by and invited us over for tea. My coworkers and I had the opportunity to work for Save The Children and go from “door-to-door” in the camp and collect family information as well as register children for the UN schools set up. Most families were very much eager to be registered, as education was the key to the future to them and frankly all they had left. Those not willing often had reasons such as early marriage, bullying on the way to school, or disillusionment at their current situation.

In the wake of any significant conflict in a nation-state, either within or at its borders, media outlets, diplomats, and politicians are usually focused on the immediacy of the conflict, that is, its causes and forms of containment. If they think about the future, it is largely in terms of the viability of the nation-state and the possibility for democracy in the aftermath of such conflict. This has largely been the case with respect to the Arab states involved in internal revolts and political conflicts in what has been called the Arab Spring, and especially in the Syrian conflict. What gets largely ignored in this focus on the conflict is the plight of people spilling into neighboring states and border zones. And what is entirely eclipsed from attention is how the presence of such refugees and subsequent diaspora will permanently change the political landscape on the ground for some of these host countries. As the Syrian Conflict enters into its third straight year, many refugees, current inhabitants, and diplomats are skeptical as to when the conflict will come to a close. And as the US and its Arab allies enter the stage to exterminate the terrorist group ISIL, or “Daaesh” in Arabic, many refugees are trying harder and harder to hold onto the hope that they will live to see a free Syria.

Muhammad is sophomore at Johns Hopkins

 

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