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.”

Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

1st line call logger/ User access administrator

£9 Per Hour: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Warrington a...

Shine Night Walk 2014 - 'On the night' volunteer roles

Unpaid Voluntary Work : Cancer Research UK: We need motivational volunteers to...

Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable & Accounts Receivable)

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable...

Senior IT Trainer - Buckinghamshire - £250 - £350 p/d

£200 - £300 per day: Ashdown Group: IT Trainer - Marlow, Buckinghamshire - £25...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star