Two weeks ago I’d never been to Jordan. I’ve now been twice. The first time I was filming with Refugees in preparation for the UN’s announcement of two million Refugees from Syria. The second time was in expectation of US bombing of the Assad regime. Today the UNHCR announcement has been made and I can share with you my work from Zaatari.
Here’s the BBC web page about Zaatari camp. Five of my films can be viewed by opening on the page and then clicking on the map near the top. . .
“Welcome to Zaatari, welcome to the second largest refugee city in the world.” Says Kilian Kleinschmidt, the tough looking sun tanned German who manages the camp for the UNHCR. I’m spending an afternoon with him and his team, trying to get a sense of the scale of their job and a basic understanding of Zaatari refugee Camp on the Jordan/Syria border.
The camp is home to 120,000 refugees from the conflict in Syria. It sits on a dusty, windswept plain hammered by the sun and whipped by a scorching wind. I’d been warned that it is a lawless place, distrustful of outsiders and violent towards TV cameras but as Kilian took me on a tour I found most of the residents inquisitive and welcoming. Below the surface though hover terrible memories of the conflict they are escaping. “Everybody here is traumatized to some extent,” Kilian tells me, “there’s so many families where an entire generation has been wiped out.”
Residents in Zaatari camp
But despite the tragedies suffered by most here, there are signs of hope. In one of many restaurants that are springing up around the camp I met Abu Shaadi. In Syria he had a house and a good job, now he’s working as a waiter and living in a tent with two children and a pregnant Wife. With a huge smile he tells me that he always tries to cheer up those around him, to help them forget the pressures of life here and to feel normal once again.
The camps main road is known as the Champs Elysees. It’s a bustling market street lined with corrugated metal shacks selling everything from mobile phone sim cards to circumcision services. It’s a surprising, vibrant place that challenges the preconceptions of a refugee camp. I find Kilian again near by, checking on the progress of a project to build communal kitchens. The residents themselves have done the work and Kilian’s chest is puffed with pride, “Instead of being beggars, they have now achieved – as a community, the building of their own kitchens which they really needed.”
All the Syrians I spoke to in Zaatari miss Syria and are desperate to return home. But with the war in their homeland still raging this camp is beginning to look and feel like a real town that could be here for a long time.