Syrian Refugee Camps: “Not Hell Precisely, But Itís as Close as It Gets”

When Isra’a arrived in Za’atri, a Jordanian refugee camp, she saw the words “death camp” scrawled in Arabic on a UNHCR tent — no doubt a chilling welcome for the 10-year-old Syrian girl who fled Damascus with her mother when government forces brutally killed her uncle. The graffiti is also an alarming message for Syrians risking their lives to seek a safe haven: refuge is hard to find.

Now Isra’a and her family struggle to survive in this desolate, windswept refugee camp in the middle of the Jordanian desert, far from anything she knows. †It’s been over a year, and Isra’a still has no idea when, or if, she’ll be able to return home. “I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to my friends,” Isra’a said. She lives in limbo, along with the 250,000 other Syrians who have fled to camps like Za’atri since the civil war began — whether in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, or most recently, Iraq.

Every day, a thousand new refugees pour across Syria’s borders.

Given the shortage of food and water, and the lack of protection from the blinding dust and the desert’s extreme temperatures, some refugees wonder if life in Jordanian camps is worse than life in Syria. “In Syria, it’s a quick death,” explained Abu Sami, a 30-year-old refugee, as he and other Syrians gathered to protest the poor conditions. “But here in Za’atri camp, it’s a slow death for us all. We escaped shelling and bombardment of our homes and now face this torment.”

The feeling is pervasive. “My life is miserable in the tent,” said Haj Abdul-Karim, another Syrian refugee in Jordan, who crams himself into a small tent with nine of his relatives every night. “Now there are some refugees moving the other direction — from Jordan back into Syria, or farther to other places, like Turkey.”Ě

In Turkey, the accommodations are just as bad — or even worse. The tents in Turkish camps are flimsy, unable to withstand weather. The influx of migrants has strained Turkey’s access to basic resources, and led to food and water shortages, as well as poor sanitation. A few weeks ago, refugees in a Turkish camp gathered to protest against the inadequate water supply, unsanitary bathrooms and the camp’s unnecessary detention practices. The peaceful picket soon turned into a violent riot, with four Turkish police officers and ten Syrians injured.

As the number of refugees grows, UN agencies and NGOs race to improve the conditions and contain discontent.

But camp conditions aren’t the only problem. In Lebanon and Iraq, the problem is that there are no refugee camps. In some cases, Syrians are housed in school basements, and are not allowed to leave or even visit relatives in the area. Harsh policies and hostile rules restrict their movements and undermine their freedom. Refugees are treated like criminals and kept under military guard.

“We wish to go back to Syria and die there instead of living here in this prison,”Ě said Abdul Hay Majeed, a Syrian refugee forced to stay inside a schoolhouse in Iraq.

Even those refugees who could roam freely wouldn’t want to. Discriminatory violence in countries like Lebanon keeps many hiding in fear. Last week, the powerful al-Mequad claimed that it kidnapped 20 Syrians — ordinary, middle-class citizens. Hoteliers and landlords drive up their prices to exploit the Syrians’ desperation. They demand sky-high rents that the refugees must accept.

The Lebanese government has largely ignored the issue, allowing the profiteers to cash in on the crisis and abandoning its humanitarian duty to provide shelter, food and medical treatment.

ďItís not hell precisely, but itís as close as it gets,Ē said Jamal, a 26-year-old Syrian photographer.

In the midst of the fire and brimstone, a grassroots response to the humanitarian crisis is beginning to take root. One activist, Al-Shhadeh, is collecting refugees’ stories in Turkish camps. He has created a blog, Syrian Voices, to share personal accounts of the conflict. “If you want to sleep well at night,”Ě he recorded one refugee saying, “You have to help us.”Ě

Related Stories:

Syrian Refugee Numbers Swell to 200,000

9 Die in Car Bomb Explosion on Turkish Border

Obama Warns Syria Over Use of Chemical Weapons

Photo credit: شبكة برق B.R.Q's photostream


John De Avalon
John De Avalon3 years ago

On Channel 4 news a few weeks back how 'men' from all over the Arab world are coming to these refugee camps looking for widowed young women and orphaned girls to sexually prey on.

John De Avalon
John De Avalon3 years ago

Poor people. As always the ordinary people pay the price for politician's lust for power.

Natasha Salgado
natasha s3 years ago

And we complain about everything??? Just awful. Thanks

Vicky Pitchford
Vicky P4 years ago

very sad, can't imagine living like that..

pam w.
pam w4 years ago

The Jordanians are taking many of them....but there's a limit.

"Impractical?" Possibly, although the Israelis airlifted many Jews from Ethiopia in years past. Help could be provided...IF NATIONS WERE WILLING.

Religion didn't start this....but fellow Muslims COULD come to the refugees' aid...IF they were willing.

JT Smith4 years ago

As far as other local countries opening their doors to fellow Muslims, that's something that's easier said than done from a logistical standpoint. As for airlifting the refugees out, it sounds good but it's realistically impractical. Primarily given all of the shelling and air assaults that the refugees are fleeing from, the planes coming in to airlift them out would be coming under heavy fire as well. Which while heroic has the nasty potential for turning suicidal, and that wouldn't help anyone. As stated in the article, the main problems in regards to the refugees is that they're having to move to places where the local resources are already being strained. Yes, sometimes this is due to corrupt leaders; but not always. Physical resources are limited even when they're being properly and humanely managed. And suddenly adding additional strain to those resources will have the consequences. Once again, people are looking at the situation and placing blame on the religion. The problems are NOT the fault of the religion. Christians continually claim they'll help the needy, but quite often fail to do so. That's not the fault of Christianity. Realistically, what needs to happen is for the cause of them becoming refugees in this case needs to be stopped. And realistically, that's often easier stated than accomplished.

pam w.
pam w4 years ago

JT's comments are wise. I know we all like signing petitions. but....sometimes I just want to say "GET REAL!"

A petition will NOT solve the internal machinations of an Islamic country whose despotic "leader" is being overthrown while hundreds of thousands of people are displaced!

WE CANNOT HELP THEM! If ANYONE could help them....the Saudis could airlift could the incredibly wealthy nations of Bahrain and Oman and the Emirates.

Oddly...nobody seems willing to open their doors to fellow Muslims.


Susan T.
Susan Telese4 years ago

oh my aren't we the luckiest people living
in AMERICA. even with all our money problems..

JT Smith4 years ago

Please bear with me, as I know this will probably sound at least a bit odd. (God willing, I'll be able to translate what I'm thinking in a way that will be understood.) This situation with the refugees is despicable. I want to do something about it, but I frankly feel powerless. Even if someone were to create a petition in order to try to help these people, a petition is not something that will really make much difference. I know that I'm in a better place than they are all the way around. That is NOT meant to be arrogant or belittling to them. I'm simply trying to be factual and realistic about our relative situations. The problem is that I'm not in a position to actually be able to help them. Yes, I have "more" than they do, but that's also a relative term. I'm currently just trying to get by right now. And even if I had extra money available to me, this is not a situation that needs money thrown at it. And even if it were, I frankly don't trust any of the organizations that I see that are claiming to be helping either these people or people in these situations. This is especially true of the ones that advertise on the telly and radio, as those adverts have to be paid for somehow. I am not trying to say "woe is me" when these refugees are so obviously in a worse situation than I am. I'm merely stating that I feel completely impotent to help these people, and I know that they deserve to be helped. I hope this is making sense.

Stephanie H.

Thanks for the info I wish society was more humane to everyone.