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Life as a Syrian refugee in a camp of 116,000 – tents, tokens and uncertainty

World Vision
16 July 2013 by Kate Rose
Life as a Syrian refugee in a camp of 116,000 – tents, tokens and uncertainty

A man clutches his registration papers at Za'atari Refugee Camp in Jordan.

Jordan has a population less than a third of Australia’s,  but the country is currently hosting some 600,000 people who have fled fighting in Syria.

Most are in the community, but some 116,000 with nowhere else to go are living in Za’atari refugee camp, a tent city in the middle of the desert.

I have spent most of my visit here wrestling with an unfathomable concept: being forced to exchange a comfortable, safe existence in my own home to one in a tent in another country’s desert, but that’s the reality facing thousands fleeing a conflict that shows no sign of ending.

In Za’atari’s registration area, exhausted refugees huddle close together waiting for their turn to have the UN verify their identities and admit them to the camp.

The process weaves through several buildings, and for crowd control each section is separated from the others by heavy gates and security guards. Unlike the refugees, I’m allowed to wander through any gate I want with my UNHCR escort. Unlike the refugees, I know exactly when I’m going home, and exactly what awaits me when I get there.

Inside the registration area, one man sits alone, in a traditional long gown, his head wrapped in a keffiyeh. He looks like a broken man, his face lined with grief and exhaustion. He has no family with him to cling to, instead he is clutching a few small bits of paper. One is his registration form, with details about his identity. The others are tokens that will later be exchanged for food, a tent, maybe bedding. They are his only possessions. A life reduced to a handful of paper tickets.

The paper ticket I carry will get me on a plane back to Australia, and my passport guarantees me safe entry when I get there. When Australian leaders knife each other it’s metaphorical, and no children get caught in the carnage. Syria’s men, women and children aren’t so lucky.

Kate Rose is a Senior Media Officer at World Vision Australia. She’s currently in Jordan with World Vision CEO Tim Costello to cover the Syrian Refugee Crisis response.

Kate Rose Kate Rose

Kate Rose is World Vision Australia's website editor and was recently deployed to South Sudan to support the emergency response.


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