New camp due to open in Jordan as numbers continue to rise

Briefing Notes, 25 January 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 25 January 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Jordan has experienced a record number of refugees crossing, with over 30,000 arriving in Za'atri camp since the beginning of the year. This compares to 16,413 in December, 13,000 in November, and 10,000 in October.

Yesterday over 4400 Syrian refugees arrived in Za'atri camp. A further 2000 arrived during the course of the night.

Many originate from Dara'a and its suburbs, along with Al-Yadoudeh, Al-Harak, Enkhel, Allajah, Ataman, Dael, Busr Al-Hareer, Al-Shajarah and Sayda. They are mainly families, female-headed households, and elderly people. Refugees report generalised and targeted violence, property loss, lack of medical treatment with facilities closed, high price and low availability of food and fuel as combined reasons for their flight. Many report that water and electricity are only available for intermittent periods in parts of southern Syria.

UNHCR is working with the Government of Jordan and partners to prepare a second major camp close to Za'atri, which will be known as Halabat camp. We hope to open it by the end of the month. Up to five thousand people will be accommodated initially in the camp, with a plan to increase the capacity to 30,000 people.

Staff at Za'atri are working day and night to respond to the new arrivals and the growing needs of the refugees in the camp. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of tents are being delivered by truck to the warehouses in Za'atri. Yesterday 31 trucks delivered tents and essential relief items during the course of the day, with hundreds of deliveries planned in the coming days. UNHCR and partners are also increasing the staffing in the camp to cope with the high rate of new arrivals. We estimate that the population of Za'atri currently stands at over 65,000 people.

In the past month, between seven and ten babies were born each day in the camp. Every day, families arrive at Za'atri with very young babies. It is with great sadness that we report the death of three refugee children this week. A two-year old infant and two-month old baby died shortly after arriving at the camp. Investigations are underway to determine the cause of death. The third death was that of a two-day old baby who died following an emergency delivery due to the mother suffering pre-eclampsia.

To respond to the medical needs of refugees, there are three hospitals, two intermediary health facilities, four primary healthcare facilities, with approximately 51 specialists and 70 nurses in place at Za'atri. All facilities have general practitioners and paramedics on site. There are several agencies and national and international NGOs with programmes supporting the health care system in the camp.

In addition to the daily new arrivals at Za'atri who are registered in the camp, in Amman UNHCR staff are registering up to 1,400 people a day. We hope to register over 50,000 refugees in urban settings by the end of February. A new registration centre in Irbid will open soon, further increasing our registration capacity.

Increased registration and outreach is resulting in more vulnerable families being identified. UNHCR and International Relief and Development have conducted over 11,000 home visits across Jordan since April 2012. This month 7,700 Syrian families received cash assistance in Jordan. These funds helped them pay rent, buy food, pay for heating fuel and essential items for their families. UNHCR is grateful for the strong financial support it has received so far and will continue to count on more support to offer urgently needed assistance to vulnerable families. This underlines the urgency of funds being given swiftly, so that all vulnerable families receive prompt assistance.

To date UNHCR has registered, or issued appointments to register to 206,630 Syrians in Jordan. According to the Government of Jordan there are over 300,000 Syrian refugees in the country.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Abu Dhabi: Mohammed Abu Asaker (Regional Spokesman, Arabic) on mobile + 971 50 621 3552
  • In Amman: Tala Kattan on mobile: +962 79 978 3186
  • Ali Bibi on mobile: +962 7777 11118
  • In Beirut: Dana Sleiman on mobile: +961 3827 323
  • In Geneva: Adrian Edwards on mobile: +41 79 557 9120
  • Sybella Wilkes on mobile +41 79 557 9138
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Haunted by a sinking ship

Thamer and Thayer are two brothers from Syria who risked their lives in the hope of reaching Europe. The sea voyage was fraught with danger. But home had become a war zone.

Before the conflict, they led a simple life in a small, tight-knit community they describe as "serene". Syria offered them hope and a future. Then conflict broke out and they were among the millions forced to flee, eventually finding their way to Libya and making a desperate decision.

At a cost of US$ 2,000 each, they boarded a boat with over 200 others and set sail for Italy. They knew that capsizing was a very real possibility. But they hadn't expected bullets, fired by militiamen and puncturing their boat off the coast of Lampedusa.

As water licked their ankles, the brothers clung to one another in the chaos. "I saw my life flash before my eyes," recalls Thayer. "I saw my childhood. I saw people from when I was young. Things I thought I no longer remembered."

After ten terrifying hours, the boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, throwing occupants overboard. Rescue, when it finally came, was too late for many.

Theirs was the second of two deadly shipwrecks off the coast of Lampedusa last October. Claiming hundreds of lives, the disasters sparked a debate on asylum policy in Europe, leading Italian authorities to launch the Mare Nostrum search and rescue operation. To date, it has saved more than 80,000 people in distress at sea.

Eight months on, having applied for asylum in a sleepy coastal town in western Sicily, Thamer and Thayer are waiting to restart their lives.

"We want to make our own lives and move on," they explain.

Haunted by a sinking ship

A Teenager in Exile

Like fathers and sons everywhere, Fewaz and Malak sometimes struggle to coexist. A new haircut and a sly cigarette are all it takes to raise tensions in the cramped apartment they currently call home. But, despite this, a powerful bond holds them together: refugees from Syria, they have been stranded for almost a year in an impoverished neighbourhood of Athens.

They fled their home with the rest of the family in the summer of 2012, after war threw their previously peaceful life into turmoil. From Turkey, they made several perilous attempts to enter Greece.

Thirteen-year-old Malak was the first to make it through the Evros border crossing. But Fewaz, his wife and their two other children were not so lucky at sea, spending their life savings on treacherous voyages on the Mediterranean only to be turned back by the Greek coastguard.

Finally, on their sixth attempt, the rest of the family crossed over at Evros. While his wife and two children travelled on to Germany, Fewaz headed to Athens to be reunited with Malak.

"When I finally saw my dad in Athens, I was so happy that words can't describe," says Malak. However, the teenager is haunted by the possibility of losing his father again. "I am afraid that if my dad is taken, what will I do without him?"

Until the family can be reunited, Malak and his father are determined to stick together. The boy is learning to get by in Greek. And Fewaz is starting to get used to his son's haircut.

A Teenager in Exile

Jihan's Story

Like millions, 34-year-old Jihan was willing to risk everything in order to escape war-torn Syria and find safety for her family. Unlike most, she is blind.

Nine months ago, she fled Damascus with her husband, Ashraf, 35, who is also losing his sight. Together with their two sons, they made their way to Turkey, boarding a boat with 40 others and setting out on the Mediterranean Sea. They hoped the journey would take eight hours. There was no guarantee they would make it alive.

After a treacherous voyage that lasted 45 hours, the family finally arrived at a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, called Milos - miles off course. Without support or assistance, they had to find their own way to Athens.

The police detained them for four days upon their arrival. They were cautioned to stay out of Athens, as well as three other Greek cities, leaving them stranded.

By now destitute and exhausted, the family were forced to split up - with Ashraf continuing the journey northwards in search of asylum and Jihan taking their two sons to Lavrion, an informal settlement about an hour's drive from the Greek capital.

Today, Jihan can only wait to be reunited with her husband, who has since been granted asylum in Denmark. The single room she shares with her two sons, Ahmed, 5, and Mohammad, 7, is tiny, and she worries about their education. Without an urgent, highly complex corneal transplant, her left eye will close forever.

"We came here for a better life and to find people who might better understand our situation," she says, sadly. "I am so upset when I see how little they do [understand]."

Jihan's Story

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