Date set for new camp opening in Jordan

Briefing Notes, 11 March 2014

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 11 March 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR welcomes a decision this week by the Jordanian Government to open the country's third refugee camp Azraq in a few weeks from now on 30 April. Azraq is located nearly 100 kilometres east of Amman in Zarqa governorate. The camp will initially house relatively small numbers of refugees but will eventually be able to accommodate up to 130,000 people.

The opening will be timely as the past weeks have seen the numbers of people crossing the border increasing by 50 per cent to an average of approximately 600 daily. This increase, combined with a lower number of spontaneous returns to Syria, is putting strains on Za'atari, the main camp hosting Syrian refugees in Jordan. Zaatari is currently hosting some 100,000 residents, close to its capacity.

Preparations are underway at the Azraq camp to accommodate newly arrived refugees and provide them with necessary assistance, services and protection support. The 22 partners, including governmental counterparts and humanitarian agencies, are mobilizing human resources and are activating their preparedness plans to be operational by the set date.

To date, over 2,500 shelters have been completed and could accommodate the first 13,000 refugees; 103 km of roads have been built and services areas covering more than 447,000 sq. meters have been constructed. Some 2,000 sanitation facilities, covering the needs of 30,000 refugees, have been completed as well as the water distribution system. Two schools, as well as playgrounds, child and adolescent friendly spaces are available. With health support, for the moment one health post has been completed and a secondary-level 130-bed hospital is ready. The camp will have a reception capacity of up to 2,000 refugees per day.

Once opened, the camp, which is located in eastern part of Jordan and 90 kilometres away from the Syrian border, will receive new arrivals from Syria and refugees already in the country willing to be reunited with newly arrived families.

H.E. Hussein Al-Majali, the Jordanian Minister of Interior visited the camp yesterday with the UNHCR's Representative Andrew Harper.

To date, there are 584,600 Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR in Jordan. 80 per cent of refugees live in urban areas throughout the country and the remaining 20 per cent live in one of the four existing refugee camps and settlements located in the northern part of Jordan.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Amman: Helene Daubelcour on mobile +962 79 889 1307
  • In Geneva: Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
  • In Geneva: Dan McNorton on mobile +41 79 217 3011
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Haunted by a sinking ship

Thamer and Thayer are two brothers from Syria who risked their lives in the hope of reaching Europe. The sea voyage was fraught with danger. But home had become a war zone.

Before the conflict, they led a simple life in a small, tight-knit community they describe as "serene". Syria offered them hope and a future. Then conflict broke out and they were among the millions forced to flee, eventually finding their way to Libya and making a desperate decision.

At a cost of US$ 2,000 each, they boarded a boat with over 200 others and set sail for Italy. They knew that capsizing was a very real possibility. But they hadn't expected bullets, fired by militiamen and puncturing their boat off the coast of Lampedusa.

As water licked their ankles, the brothers clung to one another in the chaos. "I saw my life flash before my eyes," recalls Thayer. "I saw my childhood. I saw people from when I was young. Things I thought I no longer remembered."

After ten terrifying hours, the boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, throwing occupants overboard. Rescue, when it finally came, was too late for many.

Theirs was the second of two deadly shipwrecks off the coast of Lampedusa last October. Claiming hundreds of lives, the disasters sparked a debate on asylum policy in Europe, leading Italian authorities to launch the Mare Nostrum search and rescue operation. To date, it has saved more than 80,000 people in distress at sea.

Eight months on, having applied for asylum in a sleepy coastal town in western Sicily, Thamer and Thayer are waiting to restart their lives.

"We want to make our own lives and move on," they explain.

Haunted by a sinking ship

A Teenager in Exile

Like fathers and sons everywhere, Fewaz and Malak sometimes struggle to coexist. A new haircut and a sly cigarette are all it takes to raise tensions in the cramped apartment they currently call home. But, despite this, a powerful bond holds them together: refugees from Syria, they have been stranded for almost a year in an impoverished neighbourhood of Athens.

They fled their home with the rest of the family in the summer of 2012, after war threw their previously peaceful life into turmoil. From Turkey, they made several perilous attempts to enter Greece.

Thirteen-year-old Malak was the first to make it through the Evros border crossing. But Fewaz, his wife and their two other children were not so lucky at sea, spending their life savings on treacherous voyages on the Mediterranean only to be turned back by the Greek coastguard.

Finally, on their sixth attempt, the rest of the family crossed over at Evros. While his wife and two children travelled on to Germany, Fewaz headed to Athens to be reunited with Malak.

"When I finally saw my dad in Athens, I was so happy that words can't describe," says Malak. However, the teenager is haunted by the possibility of losing his father again. "I am afraid that if my dad is taken, what will I do without him?"

Until the family can be reunited, Malak and his father are determined to stick together. The boy is learning to get by in Greek. And Fewaz is starting to get used to his son's haircut.

A Teenager in Exile

Jihan's Story

Like millions, 34-year-old Jihan was willing to risk everything in order to escape war-torn Syria and find safety for her family. Unlike most, she is blind.

Nine months ago, she fled Damascus with her husband, Ashraf, 35, who is also losing his sight. Together with their two sons, they made their way to Turkey, boarding a boat with 40 others and setting out on the Mediterranean Sea. They hoped the journey would take eight hours. There was no guarantee they would make it alive.

After a treacherous voyage that lasted 45 hours, the family finally arrived at a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, called Milos - miles off course. Without support or assistance, they had to find their own way to Athens.

The police detained them for four days upon their arrival. They were cautioned to stay out of Athens, as well as three other Greek cities, leaving them stranded.

By now destitute and exhausted, the family were forced to split up - with Ashraf continuing the journey northwards in search of asylum and Jihan taking their two sons to Lavrion, an informal settlement about an hour's drive from the Greek capital.

Today, Jihan can only wait to be reunited with her husband, who has since been granted asylum in Denmark. The single room she shares with her two sons, Ahmed, 5, and Mohammad, 7, is tiny, and she worries about their education. Without an urgent, highly complex corneal transplant, her left eye will close forever.

"We came here for a better life and to find people who might better understand our situation," she says, sadly. "I am so upset when I see how little they do [understand]."

Jihan's Story

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