Reflections on a Visit to Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan
September 17-20, 2017
We traveled to the Za’atari Refugee Camp on Wednesday, an hour’s drive from Amman and 10 miles from the Syrian border. Za’atari hosts 80,000 Syrians—the largest camp in the Middle East and fifth largest in the world. It is run by the Syrian Refugee Affairs Department, but UNHCR is responsible for the management and coordination of humanitarian services. It is divided into twelve communities which hold a meeting every other week with the authorities.
We spent the better part of a day at Za’atari, starting with a briefing from the camp leadership and UNHCR representatives. We visited a Community Center and food market, were hosted to tea by a refugee family in their caravan, and met with a group of community leaders.
Signs everywhere identified the donors: government agencies like the Norwegian Refugee Council and USAID, UN agencies like UNHCR, NGOs like Mercy Corp, Oxfam, Save the Children, and the International Rescue Committee.
As we moved around the camp, it felt more like a real community than a compound. There is an orderly street grid, a string of local shops commonly referred to as the Champs-Élysées, and rows of family houses that resemble metal trailers (called caravans). There are schools, places of worship, and two modern, well-stocked food markets.