When people flee their homes some will cross a land border or some will take a dangerous journey by boat. After that, many displaced persons will end up in a refugee camp. This is  one example of where some will wait while they go through the US vetting process to come here, which can take up to 2 years.

One of the places people flee to from Syria is across the border and into Jordan.

Za’atari Refugee Camp, Jordan
Source 1 Source 2 Source 3 (pdf) Source 4

In the middle of a desert in Jordan, this 3-square mile camp has hosted up to 100,000 refugees. That makes this camp Jordan’s fourth largest city. Most of the refugees come from the Da’ara Governorate in the southwest of Syria, which is almost only 25 miles away. This is what refugees pouring in actually looks like. The camp is administered by both the Jordanian government and the UNHCR. It’s estimated that each year, Jordan spends $870 million to host Syrian refugees.

The camp is so huge that it’s divided into 12 districts, with leaders, in an attempt to run it like a city. There are schools, hospitals, markets, and even a taxi service.

In the early days of the camp, people lived in tents, but they were replaced with more durable buildings after a harsh winter that resulted in 30 children dying. Tensions ran high, gangs were formed where leadership lacked, and there was no law and order. But despite all the conflict, communities are formed. People volunteer, children join activities and go to school, and women form support groups.

Camp Activites

What’s life like in the camp? Long video (26 minutes), but WORTH IT. Take a sports tour of Za’atari with Olympic silver medalist Samantha Murray. “In a really desperate situation, there is still hope.”

  • Wrestling with Mohammad who was a member of Syria’s national team, champion, coach, and teacher. Now he coaches the Za’atari Camp’s youth wrestling team.
  • Amal Hosham is a single mother and coach of the girls soccer team.
  • Table tennis with Sahah and Adham. This is a popular sport in Syria and Jordan. “Sport is a thing without borders.”
  • Taekwondo is thanks to the World Taekwondo Federation’s partnership with the Korea Refugee Project which sends taekwondo instructors to the refugee camp. They teach children ages 5-17. More info and pictures on the taekwondo academy at The Guardian.


In a country of 6.6 million people, Jordan is hosting almost 1.3 million refugees from Syria. The children need to go to school and with the help of the Education Ministry, they can. They have allowed free enrollment for Syrian children and hired new teachers. In 2016, $700 million is aid was pledged to Jordan with some countries, including the US, pledging $81.5 million towards education. There are some educational obstacles, however, such as poverty, Jordanian regulations, and child labor. (Human Rights Watch

UNICEF and the Norwegian Refugee Council have also set up special education programs in the camp. (Source) “Now, more than 6,100 children are able to catch up on their Math, Arabic, English and Science skills each day, quickly bringing them to a level, where they can switch to formal schools. And the programme doesn’t stop here: once they close their books, the children join other activities, such as sports and painting to let go of heir energy and play in a safe environment.”

After school, children can attend…….. CIRCUS SCHOOL. The teacher is also a refugee who studied gymnastics in Syria and works as a clown in the camp.


UNHCR and the Japan International Cooperation Agency launched an electricity training program. “Thanks to this specialized training, refugees will be able to repair and maintain electrical works, and will be responsible for the electrical connections to households under the supervision of UNHCR electrical engineers; improving the safety of the electricity network in Zaatari Camp.” Source.

People can also be paid to do jobs around the camp through Cash for Work programs, which are offered by partner organizations.

In this job description for a position at OXFAM (NGO focused on alleviation of global poverty), you can see some examples of the kind of Cash for Work jobs around the camp for refugees.

More details on the Cash for Work program, such as how many people participate and how much is spent: file:///home/chronos/u-9e024263caf6bc752c9f9c50371ac9c8fcb10703/Downloads/NovemberCfWfactsheet.pdf

Remembering Home

How is art helping Syrian refugees keep their culture alive?

Replica of Deir ez-Zor suspension bridge. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2016/mar/02/art-helping-syrian-refugees-keep-culture-alive

Mahmoud Hariri says about the fall of Palmyra, “Our history is being destroyed, and not just Syrian history but human history. These sites are thousands of years old, and when they’re gone you can’t rebuild them like you can a road or an airport.” Hariri was a computer engineer from Dara’a. In Za’atari, he met a former art teacher who fled Syria and along with other artists, they formed the group Art from Za’atari and created miniature models of famous Syrian landmarks. They used photos, basic materials around the camp, and their memories to recreate the landmarks.

As of March 2016, the countries neighboring Syria were hosting 4.8 million refugees. (VoA News) In 2016, the United States resettled 12,587 Syrian refugees. For more numbers and US statistics, see my other blog entry: Refugees… What are we so afraid of?