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
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Life and Style
tech
Sport
Andros Townsend is challenged by Vladimir Volkov
football
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

Y1 Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Y1 Teacher required for a So...

Senior Financial Services Associate - City

Highly Competitive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - FINANCIAL SERVICES - Senior...

Residential Property

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Residential Conveyancer - Wiltshire We have a...

Y5 Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Long term position for a KS2...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week