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Jordan's Zaatari refugee camp turns 3, challenges for the future of the thousands living there

Briefing notes

Jordan's Zaatari refugee camp turns 3, challenges for the future of the thousands living there

28 July 2015

This week marks the third anniversary of the largest refugee camp in the Middle East, the Zaatari camp in Jordan which was established on 29 July 2012 amid huge inflows at that time of refugees from Syria. The camp was set up in nine days, and has grown in large stages since. Initially there were problems with electricity for lighting and for refugees to charge their mobile phones - the sole means by which they could keep in touch with families back in Syria and elsewhere.

Today Zaatari is a sprawling, bustling home to around 81,000 Syrians. Prefabricated shelters including family compounds have largely replaced the lines of tents that were initially there. More than half the population are children, presenting challenges not just on how to provide schooling and restore abruptly halted educations in Syria, but also in investing for the future. 1 in every 3 children is not attending school. There are also some 9,500 young people in the camp aged between 19-24 who need skills training and, like their older counterparts, need livelihood opportunities too. Some 5.2 percent of these were at university in Syria but had to drop out due to the conflict, while just 1.6 percent successfully graduated. More opportunities must be found for this generation and the millions of other refugees around the region in similar predicaments: They are the future of Syria.

Meanwhile, life for more than half a million refugees living outside of camps in Jordan has become increasingly tough. The latest survey found 86 per cent of these people live below the Jordanian poverty line of 68 JOD (approx. US$95) per capita per month. Faced with such pressures, increasing numbers are moving to camps from urban areas. With Zaatari at capacity, the number of urban refugees seeking shelter in Jordan's second camp, Azraq, increased fourfold in the first six months of this year with 3,658 people returning there from urban areas, compared to just 738 in the second half of 2014. This trend is driven by increasing vulnerability of urban refugees in Jordan whose savings are depleted after years in exile, and who are unable to find secure legal livelihoods. Those living in Amman, in particular, are trying to survive in one of the most expensive cities in the Middle East. Most have already seen the value of their monthly WFP food vouchers being cut in recent months and now face the prospect of losing them entirely from next month.

In all, more than 4,015,000 refugees are registered in the region neighbouring Syria, including some 629,000 in Jordan.


To mark the third anniversary of Zaatari, UNHCR is hosting a special dialogue with refugees living there on its Facebook page. The conversation can be followed here.

Media contacts:

  • Aoife McDonnell in Jordan +962 79 545 0379
  • Ariane Rummery in Geneva +41 79 200 7617