Thursday, June 13, 2013

Zaatari refugee camp

FountainInk, an Indian magazine, has an interesting - very long - article (DESERT REFUGE) about Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.

Some excerpts: All she says is that sheikhs from Module 5 and Module 7 come and collect rent. Not paying or revealing identities will make her disappear, she says. Za’atari is not that different from the shadowy system Assad has in place in Syria. People disappear in the night, never to return again.
Abu Abdullah is part of the electricity mafia. He’s got a TV in his caravan, he’s got another caravan that is used for entertaining. He looks like a Don Corleone, one that the police and the UN appease. No one bothers him. To do that would be to sever ties with clans that are finally working with the officials in Za’atari. He is a part of the network that provides electricity to homes and shops along the Champs Elysees.
Almost all homes in Phase 1 have lights, as do all the stores. They operate a system entrenched in fear and retribution. Abu Abdullah rolls his eyes when I ask if he thinks his work is thieving.
“I feel no guilt. For too long I’ve been stolen from in Syria by Assad and his Alawites. This is payback and the international community will bear the burden. They could have acted to stop the bloodshed but they just hosted conferences. Israel is better than our Arab brothers, at least it attacked Bashar,” he spewed.
Mafia and FSA fighter are virtually indistinguishable. There exists an unspoken unholy alliance between the VIP refugees and the FSA fighters. A high-level FSA general, Colonel Idris resides in between two camps. He spends time at Za’atari. Should there be an issue, it is the Colonel that will beat out a resolution. Many FSA fighters are living a life of luxury they only dreamed of.
When she first arrived in Za’atari she was foolish and didn’t stand up for herself. The currency mafia took her for a ride. For almost all new arrivals the mafia devalued the price of the Syrian pound. They bought it cheap and sold it expensive. Suddenly her money was halved.
There are 60,000 children in the camp. Half of them are school-going age, yet only 3,000 are registered to attend. Many are fighting battles elders are involved in and are running into trouble with the police. Too often they cut the fences and act as guides for smugglers and runaways.
An aid worker with an NGO worked double shifts to keep the children off the streets. Football, music and other activities had kept the children busy. There was a brief period when Za’atari looked like a normal village. Two weeks later, she had to stop.
A man had accosted her on the street. He shouted at her and later threatened her. “Too happy,” is how he described the children.
He lashed out at her: didn’t she know a civil war was going on, he had asked. “Young dissatisfied youth” was what the man with the long beard has ordered.
Many children look like street children. Their skin has been dried by the bitter winter and then burnt under the summer sun. Some have jobs selling chai and cigarettes, others work as porters and move luggage on wheelbarrows.
According to the new UNHCR plan, the camp will be divided into 12 administrative units. Each unit will have a council. This will bring the camp under authoritative umbrella. There will be greater monitoring and accountability. It is after this reorganisation that businesses, mafia and smugglers will feel the heat of Za’atari.
Already, members of the FSA network have been giving officials working on this project some trouble. They don’t want the system changed. They don’t want their power checked. Za’atari is the largest pro-FSA base in the world. FSA flags are scattered over the camp: tied to tent poles and wedged in nooks and crannies of shops. People openly talk of their support, openly celebrate victories. There are tents with FSA graffiti. A UN-built toilet reads: “Bashar lives here.”

Another article about Zaatari is Chaos and Crime: The Trials of Running a Syrian Refugee Camp

The Syrian Crisis in Jordan (24 June 2013): discusses Zaatari camp and other refugees in Jordan.

The article of the National Post (Syrians grappling with persistant crime problem in refugee camp in Jordan after fleeing vicious civil war) has also a photo report with overviews from the air.

The BBC made a page where you can visually explore the camp (Zaatari refugee camp: The children living in limbo)

Le Figaro wrote on 22 october 2013 Le camp de Zaatari entre mafias et detresse.

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