The Syrian Civil War is deemed as the worst humanitarian crisis of modern times, where more than 11 million people, which comprise half the pre-war population in the country, were killed or forced to leave their homes to seek refuge. This event has caused families to struggle to survive inside the country or to make new homes in the neighboring countries, particularly Jordan where the Zaatari Refugee Camp was established, while some are risking their lives to move to Europe with the hope of finding opportunities and acceptance. As the effects of the war are overwhelming, the hot summers, cold winters and other harsh weather elements have made the lives of refugees in the camp more difficult.
The camp was built for refugees of the Syrian Civil War that started when anti-government demonstrations were held in March 2011 as part of the Arab Spring. The peaceful protests escalated quickly after the violent crackdown by the government, causing the rebels to begin fighting back. In July that year, defectors from the army roughly organized the Free Syrian Army, with many civilians taking up arms and join the organization. The crisis was even made more complicated with the divisions between Islamist and secular fighters, as well as between ethnic groups. After 5 years since the conflict began, 250,000 people were killed, where half of the casualties were believed to be civilians. As crowded cities were destroyed and human rights were horrifically violated, basic necessities like medical care and food became sparse.
According to estimates by the United Nations (UN), 6.6 million people were internally displaced, and with regards to the number refugees (including those remaining in Syria and those escaping across borders), more than half of the country’s pre-war population, which is 23 million, is in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, which is handled by the Mercy Corps.
As the fighting intensified in February 2016, the main route for humanitarian aid was cut off, causing the operations of the Corps in the northern part of country to be greatly reduced. Now, the ability to provide lifesaving assistance has been severely jeopardized, as the Corps balances their urgent need in protecting the supplies for emergencies and in ramping up distributions to those in need.
Aside from fleeing to the Zaatari Refugee Camp, many war victims had gone to live in Lebanon, where the Corps has also been addressing to their needs. Sadly, the limited resources and weak infrastructure in these small countries are nearing their breaking point under the strain. More of the Syrian refugees have also escaped into Northern Iraq, but now they are also trapped by Iraq’s own insurgent conflict, as the country struggles to meet the needs of these people, on top of a huge number of internally displaced Iraqis.
An increasing number of Syrian refugees are also fleeing across the Mediterranean Sea and other borders into Turkey and then into Greece, hoping to find a better future there, though not all of them made it across alive. Those who were successful are still facing steep challenges, as resources are strained and much of the route into Western Europe has been closed.
As for the number of refugees in the Zaatari Refugee Camp, it was reported that almost 5 million Syrians have registered or are waiting for their registration with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which is in charge of the regional emergency response. As the conflict continues, the number of refugees is growing exponentially. According to reports, there were 100,000 refugees in 2012, which grew to 800,000 in April 2013, which even doubled to 1.6 million in less than 4 months. Now, the latest report said that there are already 4.8 million Syrians scattered throughout the camp and its surrounding regions, making them the largest refugee population in the world under UN’s mandate.
The Zaatari Refugee Camp was constructed by the Jordanian government, with the help of international agencies, as an emergency response after the Syrian Civil War began. However, there are certain facts behind this camp that we should know. Here are just some of them:
1. There are high cases of mal-education, young marriage and rape in the camp.
Due to the camp’s unplanned nature, administrators find it difficult to manage it, as people are able to move their tents and services are unevenly distributed across the vast area. For many refugees, it is a daily challenge to access basic services, such as those for health and education, as these can be very far away. While about half the number children are currently enrolled at school, their attendance rates are not known and are most likely very low. And while they are safe from the conflict, they have become subject of rape and other sexual violence in the camp. Also, girls are often married at a very young age just for their families to secure a dowry that can help with buying basic needs.
2. There exists a huge challenge for infrastructure.
More than half of the camp’s refugees are children, and considering the size of the camp, which is now the fourth biggest city in Jordan, there have been huge challenges for infrastructure. Oxfam, an international confederation of charitable organizations focused on alleviating global poverty, currently works in 3 of the camp’s 12 districts to supervise water, sanitation and refuse and prevent the spread of disease. However, the group said that it is very challenging to perform their tasks given the limitations in the camp.
3. It is facing employment crisis.
As the camp is transitioning into a semi-permanent city, refugees are struggling to find work or create a living for themselves. In fact, many of them are surviving on meager humanitarian assistance or on getting involved with illegal work.
Bottom line is, millions of Syrians need help, which we can do on our end by knowing more about the crisis. As you can see, lifesaving work would only be possible with knowledge and support. With the information in this article, you will be able to understand the magnitude of this crisis.
Crystal Lombardo is a contributing editor for Vision Launch. Crystal is a seasoned writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience. She has been an editor of three popular blogs that each have had over 500,000 monthly readers.