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Za’atari camp for Syrian refugees costs $500,000 a day to run

Posted by African Press International on July 29, 2013

Za’atari camp for Syrian refugees, seen here in the foreground of Jordanian villages and towns, costs $500,000 a day to run

ZA’ATARI,  – Just on the other side of Jordan’s Za’atari camp for Syrian refugees, now one of the world’s most notorious camps, lies another Za’atari: a poor village inhabited by some 12,000 Jordanians.

“If I were given a tent like this, I would cherish it and protect it,” said villager Hamda Masaeed, while pointing at the ever-growing mass of tents with the logo of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) stretching from the Syrian camp into the heart of the village of Za’atari, from which the camp got its name.

The seventy-year-old lives with two sons and seven grandchildren, also in a tent – but she built hers herself using pipes, blankets and the remains of wheat bags. It is old and tattered; one side was recently burned; and she does not own the land it sits on.

What she does own are three worn-out mattresses, a one-ring stove, and an old fridge that works only when there is electricity. Masaeed siphons electricity from her neighbour for six Jordanian dinars (US$8.50) a month, but if often cuts out.

She and other residents of the village have watched as the Syrian camp has grown over the past year to become home to some 120,000 refugees.

“It is a massive city in the heart of our little village now,” she told IRIN.

According to the social council of the municipality, the village itself has so far taken in 3,000 Syrian refugees.

Refugees do not by any means live lives of luxury: camp life is harsh and unlike the locals, they have had to endure the long journey of displacement and the psychological trauma of losing loved ones.

But only one main road divides the two Za’ataris; and while trucks carry food, blankets, clothes and medicine to Syrian refugees in the camp, the other Za’atari remains “forgotten”.

“Don’t they realize that we need help too?” Masaeed asked.

It is not only donations that pass by Masaeed’s tent, but also international journalists, aid workers, diplomats, and the world’s top officials.

One taxi driver told IRIN he deliberately drives visiting journalists through Za’atari village before dropping them at the camp, to show them that poverty also exists on the other side of the camp.

“People come from all parts of the world to write about the conditions of Syrian refugees, but these people [villagers] are also living in miserable conditions,” said Iyad Salhi, a driver from the capital Amman.

In the village, there is one mosque, two schools, and a small charity – the Za’atari Charitable Society – that “operates occasionally in Ramadan”. Its office doors were shut when IRIN passed by and no one answered the phone.

While complaints about a perceived shortage of water by residents of the Syrian camp have made it to local and international media, residents of the other Za’atari have to beg truck drivers to stop to sell them water. As in many other parts of Jordan, government-supplied water is not regular.

“They drive past us every day. Although we are paying for water, they do not sell it to us. They prefer to [sign contracts with] the camp,” said Mohammad Masaeed, Hamda’s son.

“Some promise us to come back, but they never do,” he added.

Protest in Za’atari village

This month, local media reported that gendarmerie forces quelled a protest by residents of Za’atari village when they went to demand jobs inside the camp.

Hamda Masaeed sits in her makeshift tent in Za’atari village

UNHCR says the local community has benefited, if insufficiently, from the camp economy: some people have been hired as contractors and workers in the camp.

But Nadia Salameh says she was recently laid off from a cleaner’s job at the camp to be replaced by refugees.

“They recruited us on a temporary basis, but then they gave the jobs to Syrians,” she said.

“It is so unfair when they [Syrians] receive everything for free, but we have to pay for food, gas, clothes, and rent,” she told IRIN.

Aid agencies working with poor Jordanians say they struggle to help them now.

“Donors’ attention has been focused on Syrians. They ignored the locals, who have always lived in poverty,” said Abdullah Zubi, programme coordinator at the Hashemite Fund for Human Development. “Keep in mind numbers of needy Jordanian families are increasing.”

He said his organization, a semi-governmental development organization, has been gradually reducing the number of needy families they are helping during Ramadan, when Muslims usually increase their charitable giving.

“We were able to help some 1,800 Jordanian families with packages of food every Ramadan, but as donors have been reducing their donations, we can only help 500 families this year,” he told IRIN.

International aid agencies are increasingly looking to provide assistance to local communities to avoid tensions with Syrian refugees.

UNHCR, through International Relief and Development (IRD), has provided services in the community, including improved public transport facilities and sanitation equipment. UNHCR has also supported the Ministry of Health in providing health services there.

The NGO Mercy Corps has set up community dialogues to try to address social cohesion and peaceful coexistence. It is also implementing a $20 million project – funded by the US Agency for International Development – to improve water delivery in northern Jordan, including Za’atari village.

But the needs are large – the most cited are a waste water network, a new school and better health facilities. Humanitarian agencies responding to the Syrian crisis are already having to prioritize due to rising refugee needs and insufficient funding and aid workers says donor funding for host communities is always hardest to come by.

Sad twist

In a sad twist, some Syrian refugees are now donating to poor Jordanians, or selling them extra food they receive from aid agencies at a discounted price. In Mafraq, the governorate in which the two Za’ataris are located, food blankets, tents, and other items with UNHCR logos are publicly for sale.

That is how Um Saleem, a Jordanian resident of Mafraq, has coped over the last two years, as previous donations from generous Jordanians have slowed.

Um Saleem’s kitchen

IRIN visited her as she was cooking a chicken given her by a Syrian woman living in her neighbourhood. It was the first time she had eaten meat in a month.

When Hajjar Ahmad, a Syrian refugee who lives in Za’atari camp, visited her sister in a village in Mafraq, she was “astonished” how much poverty she saw. She gave her sister extra food and blankets to distribute to Jordanians.

“We are living better than them,” Ahmad said.

aa/ha/cb  source



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Syrians are accused of taking part in pro-Morsi demonstrations

Posted by African Press International on July 23, 2013

CAIRO,  – A thin wall was all that separated Syrian refugee Ahmed Al Hemsi from his 62-year-old father at Cairo International Airport when immigration officers told his father he would not be allowed into Egypt.

“He was crying when he talked to me on the phone,” Al Hemsi, 26, told IRIN. “This was the first time in my life I heard my father crying.”

Al Hemsi’s father, who had just arrived from Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, is one of thousands of Syrians affected by a new set of security measures enacted by Egyptian authorities following the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi and bloody clashes between Morsi’s supporters and opponents.

Government supporters accuse Syrian refugees of participating in the clashes and taking part in attacks against anti-Morsi demonstrators in several Egyptian cities.

The new security measures include the requirement that Syrian refugees and asylum seekers get entry visas to Egypt from an Egyptian embassy, as well as security approval.

But many Syrians say, given that Egypt severed its diplomatic relations with Syria, getting an entry visa to Egypt from Damascus is impossible, and that the process is difficult at embassies in other countries.

“Our understanding of the new measures is that we are no longer welcome in Egypt,” said Arkan Abulkheir, a Syrian community leader in Cairo. “The fact that some Syrians had committed violations by getting involved in Egypt’s politics does not mean that Egypt should punish all Syrians.”

There are between 250,000 and 300,000 Syrian refugees in Egypt now, according to the Egyptian government.

“He was crying when he talked to me on the phone. This was the first time in my life I heard my father crying.”

The conflict in Syria has created the world’s worst refugee crisis since the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said this week, noting that more than 6,000 people were fleeing every day.

Nearly 1.8 million refugees from Syria are registered with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.

Tighter checks in Egypt

The government’s new tougher line includes tighter security checks for Syrian refugees in Egypt, with the threat of deportation for Syrians who do not have residence permits.

Previously, Syrians were able to get a three-month visa when they entered Egypt for the first time. After that visa expired, the Syrians could then apply for a one-year residence, but this is no longer the case.

A security official told the newspaper Al Watan on 11 July that police have orders to arrest Syrians and check them.

Abulkheir was stopped by a policeman on the street a few days ago. The policeman asked about his passport and his residence permit.

“He told me that he would have sent me back to Syria if my residence permit was not valid,” Abulkheir said. “Thanks are to God, the permit was valid for six more months.”

Syrian refugees say they are afraid to go out lest they be arrested or deported.

Before the change of government and these new security measures, Syrian refugees already faced a variety of challenges, but the new measures are making life even harder.

When they came to Cairo two months ago, Al Hemsi, his mother and his younger brother had to leave their father behind in the Syrian city of Daraa because they did not have enough money to buy him a plane ticket.

He finally travelled to Cairo on 8 July after the family raised US$250 for the flight. Since he was refused to entry to Egypt, he has been living in a mosque in Beirut.

“We do not know how he eats or lives his life,” Al Hemsi said. “He does not have any money. He is also too frail to work.”

School’s out

Another change has come in the education sector. Syrian refugees were previously allowed to enrol their children in state-run schools and universities, and were given equal treatment with Egyptians when it came to fees. This is no longer the case.

Abu Mustafa, a Syrian refugee in his mid-forties, went to a school in 6 October, a neighbourhood southwest of Cairo, a few days ago to enrol his three children for the new academic year, which is expected to start in September. He was told by the headmaster that Syrians are no longer allowed at state-run schools, which have lower fees than private schools.

“He said I should enrol them in a private school,” Abu Mustafa said. “But this is very difficult for me to do.”

To enrol his children in a private school, Abu Mustafa would have to pay a minimum of 7,000 Egyptian pounds (US$958) for each of them. Unemployed and living on charity, this is too much money for him, and for the tens of thousands of other Syrian refugees in the country.

Political tension

The new measures against Syrians coincide with a fierce campaign against them by some of Egypt’s politicians and opinion-makers, who accuse them of harbouring support for the deposed president and of contributing to Egypt’s current turmoil.

An Egyptian politician recently called for the execution of Syrians and Palestinians if they are arrested while taking part in protests or fights on the streets.

UNHCR in Egypt has called for refugees to receive proper protection.

“We call on the government to ensure that any precautionary measures in the light of the current security situation do not infringe on humanitarian principles and Egypt’s responsibilities to provide asylum and protection to refugees,” Edward Leposky, an associate reporting officer at UNHCR Egypt, told IRIN.

He said the Syrian community had expressed anxiety over the current environment, with some Syrians subjected to verbal threats, heightened scrutiny and temporary detentions.

“All this has led to a notable increase in the number of Syrians approaching UNHCR for registration,” Leposky said.

As of 16 July, around 75,000 Syrian refugees were registered with UNHCR in Egypt.

ae/jj/rz source


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