Syria Refugee Crisis: Building a Society from the Ground


Over the last couple of week I have followed the final preparations for the opening of Azraq refugee camp in Jordan and I was there when the first Syrian refugees arrived on April 27. 

The newly arrived refugees were exhausted from days of travel on foot or in cramped cars and seemed apprehensive about what kind of place they had entered into. Most were raggedly clothed, but especially among the children, a few were very well dressed. I figured their parents had put on their best clothes because they could not carry much else with them. I helped some carry their luggage to cars waiting to take them to their shelters. The bags were not heavy. These families had fewer belongings than what I had brought with me for a two week stay. 

Two of the smallest bags I saw belonged to a couple of girls that stood out to me because they were dressed pretty much as fashion aware girls that age in Oslo. Nobody is used to living as people do in refugee camps, but I thought these two girls might have a particularly hard time adapting. Leaving the reception area to go to their new homes, they were still joking around and at least seemed happy to be together.

At the last coordination meeting before the refugees arrived, with representatives from all agencies working in the camp, everyone reported on progress and challenges within the various sectors such as housing, water and sanitation, health services, food and education. It hit home to me that they had been building a society from the ground. With all the efforts that had gone into bringing security and basic services, it was clear that refugees would be able to survive, but would they be able to live? It is a sad fact that people will be staying in the camp for the foreseeable future. Would they be able to experience some degree of contentedness – or even happiness? Would they feel that they had some control over their own lives,  or would they become passive recipients of whatever services were provided? 

I was glad to learn that these are the very questions CARE is addressing by establishing community centers and structures for community involvement in the camp management.  CARE’s aim is to make the camp more than just a safe place to wait for peace. CARE is responsible for making sure that everyone – including the most vulnerable refugees – has a voice in decisions that concern their life. Experienced counsellors – many of whom have been refugees themselves – will make sure they get help with whatever problem they might have. At the community center there will be all sorts of social gatherings, workshops and trainings.  There are books, musical instruments, ping pong and fusball tables and toys for children. 

“Whatever we can do for these refugees is not enough” a CARE colleague working in the camp told me. I thought that pretty much summed up the situation. The camp is the best available option in one of history’s largest refugee crises. Peace is the only solution to this crisis, but for now there is a clear imperative to do whatever we can do in order to make life as comfortable as possible for people who have lost everything. 

By Anders Nordstoga, CARE communications officer


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