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.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
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

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Ashdown Group: Senior .Net Developer - Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A long-established, technology rich ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable