Process Lengthy, Even As Foreign Interest Increases
AMMAN, JORDAN — In Al Zaatari refugee camp for Syrians, the scorching sun of the day competes with freezing night winds to make life a living hell.
Many here now hope to be among the first batch to travel to the United States after Washington agreed to accept 2,000 Syrian refugees for permanent settlement.
“Nobody in the camp wants to keep living on handouts of the UN and other countries. We need to have a future,” said Mohammad Nueimi, a graduate of aviation engineering from Syria, who wants to be among those selected to immigrate to the US.
“Going to the US will be like winning a lottery,” Nueimi told the Media Line, acknowledging his chances are slim. Families are the most likely candidates to board planes flying to the US sometime in 2014, he says.
Thousands have expressed interest in immigrating.
According to Andrew Harper, representative of the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), an increasing number of western countries are showing interest in Syrian refugees.
Last month, Germany announced it was going to accept 5,000 Syrian refugees for resettlement in its territories.
The United States is just the latest country to determine the number of refugees it is willing to accept.
"UNHCR is in talks with Jordan in order to determine which cases of Syrian families are most difficult to be included among the 2,000 refugees heading to the US,” Harper said.
Zaatari is home to more than 120,000 people, mostly women and children, making it the world's second largest refugee camp after Dadaab in Kenya.
The conflict in Syria has driven nearly 1 million Syrians out of their homes to Jordan and other neighboring countries, including Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt.
Refugees — among them doctors, engineers and experienced professionals — are lining up at the UN offices, according to Ahmed Hariri, member of the camp coordination committee.
“Everybody wants to leave the camp, be it the US, Europe or anywhere in the world,” he told the Media Line.
The sprawling camp is described by UNHCR as a huge caravan park, with more than 17,000 vehicles providing shelter for the Syrians.
Hundreds of thousands of loaves of flat bread are given out each morning and several million liters of water are trucked. Thousands of latrines and showers have been constructed. But residents complain that the water is hardly enough for drinking and cooking, let alone
Refugees are supplied daily with fresh vegetables, bread, fruit, eggs, yogurt and powdered milk. Canned meat, lentils and beans, as well as rice, oil, tea, sugar, salt and other basics are distributed every week. Soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, razors, washing powder and detergents are also handed out by camp authorities.
More than 270 Jordanian teachers, accompanied by 90 Syrian assistants, provide education at UNICEF-funded primary and secondary schools.
UN officials point out that 33 child-friendly spaces have been developed, and some 1,000 businesses line Zaatari's streets.
Jordanian officials from the ministry of interior, which is running the camp, are screening refugees to determine eligibility for resettlement.
“The process of sending Syrians to the United States is long and meticulous. It could take up to one year,” a Jordanian officer from the camp management told the Media Line. “We need to make all types of security, social and medical screening before recommending names to the US authorities.”
Some families in the camp have installed satellite dishes near their tents to keep an eye on what is happening in Syria. Other refugees have begun creating gardens outside their tents, growing shrubs and flowers. But a lack of water, blistering heat and strong winds discolors and dries the plants, just like the land supporting them.
During the long days, adults sit in front of their tents talking, while young men attend a small makeshift gym, playing chess, backgammon, basketball or football.
At the camp's entrance, a group of young refugees stare through the fence with blank gazes as they watch vehicles and their passengers pass on the highway outside. And there they wait.