Inside Zaatari, the Jordanian refugee camp that makes Syria’s civil war look like the better option

 

Rafat Hariri has cheated death many times. He has been shot at, witnessed explosions and lost several friends. Having felt the wrath of Bashar al-Assad’s forces, the 20-year old Syrian escaped to the relative safety of Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan.

But he considers this new life unbearable and plans to return home. “A lot of people go back to Syria. Being here is bad, there is not much food and you cannot really do a lot of things,” he says.

In Syria, Mr Hariri and his friend, Sala Masari, also 20, were militants, fighting against the regime with a group called In the Way of God. They have been living at Zaatari for almost a year.

The young men are restless, however, and miss the status that comes with being an anti-regime fighter. In a bid to gain a sense of purpose they have set up a men’s clothes shop on the side of a dusty Zaatari street. Their stock of jeans, trainers and brightly coloured T-shirts go unsold since most people at the camp are struggling even to be able to afford to eat.

“When we open the doors people come in, but there is not a lot of business,” he says.

Now they are being urged by friends that have already re-entered Syria to join them and take up arms again.

“Assad is an animal,” Mr Masari says. “I will return to Syria in the next few months.”

They are not alone. Zaatari, the sprawling tent city in the desert, now houses about 150,000 Syrian refugees, in often dehumanising conditions. Resources are stretched. Food is minimal. Accessing healthcare is a challenge. And some refugees report that the drinking water supplied at the camp is contaminated, spreading disease.

Other factors prompting Syrians to consider leaving the camp include rising lawlessness. With no judicial system in place theft and violence is common and goes unpunished.

“There needs to be security here. It’s a very big problem,” Abdul Homsi says. In Syria he was a policeman, yet at the camp he runs a modest grocery stall that sells cereal, jam and bottled water. A few days earlier the stall had been burgled. “There is no life here. I want to go home,” he adds. “We want to go back because we want to be able to work and do normal things people do.”

Women feel especially vulnerable. “I have not seen a UN person in three months. Nobody knows who runs the camp,” Manal Masalmeh, a grandmother in her 40s, says. She spends her days with her fellow refugees in Zaatari, passing the time by doing embroidery. But along with her family – two sons, their wives and four grandchildren – she rents an apartment outside of Zaatari, in nearby al-Mafraq, for greater safety.

Due to the huge influx of Syrians the cost of rent in the region has soared. The family’s one bedroom apartment has quadrupled in price over the past year, from 50 Jordanian dinars per month (about £44) to 200. One of her sons was lucky enough to get a job as a manual worker, although his income barely covers the rent. Food and medicines in the area are also in short supply and therefore increasing in cost.

This existence has become unsustainably expensive and the family is looking into what to do next, which could mean going home.

Ms Masalmeh is defiant. “The people of Syria are not afraid,” she says. “Within a year we will go back.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan performs on stage
films
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital