UN Goodwill Ambassador Jesús Vázquez visits Syrian refugees in Jordan

News Stories, 15 May 2013

© UNHCR/G.Beals
Goodwill Ambassador Jesús Vázquez makes some new young Syrian friends at a registration centre in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

ZA'ATRI REFUGEE CAMP, Jordan, May 15 (UNHCR)- Popular Spanish TV presenter Jesús Vázquez visited Jordan this week to highlight the plight of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, particularly the children, and to help raise urgently-needed funds for UNHCR's Syria crisis operation.

"I'm here to listen to what you have to say so that I can help raise awareness in my country about your needs," the UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador told refugees on Tuesday in Za'atri camp, which is home to more than 100,000 people.

"Even though the people of Spain are suffering from an economic crisis, they understand the drastic conditions you have been forced to endure," he said. "In Spain we have a crisis. Here the definition of crisis is life and death."

During a two-day trip to Jordan, Vázquez also visited the Jordanian capital Amman, where he met with urban refugees and heard about the particular challenges they face. In Za'atri camp, which continues to grow, he met refugee families and aid workers in the camp's medical sector, spoke with new arrivals and talked with UNHCR staff about their vital work.

"I'm particularly concerned about the children, who have lost two years of their lives and suffered endless trauma," Vázquez said. "They've seen the worst that humanity has to offer. We need to show them the best we have to offer."

Vázquez said his visit would help generate specific ideas for fund-raising for UNHCR projects in Za'atri and urban areas. On returning to Spain, he will participate in television and radio programmes to call for solidarity and funds.

The popular Spaniard also praised the Jordanian government and people for hosting so many Syrians. "By keeping the borders open and extending a helping hand to Syrian refugees they have literally saved their lives," he said.

Since the conflict erupted in Syria in March 2011, more than 1.4 million Syrians have fled to countries in the region. Jordan has accepted over 460,000 of them a staggering amount which is straining the country's resources.

The majority of the refugees are women and children. UNHCR is seeking millions of dollars in funding to provide protection and to meet their basic needs, including shelter, water, health care and education. The appeal has been about 50 per cent funded.

Vázquez has been working with UNHCR since 2006, using his media access and public influence to raise funds and awareness in the Spanish-speaking world about the suffering and needs of refugees. He has met refugees in Kenya and Tunisia as well as internally displaced populations in Colombia.

This is not his first visit to Jordan. In 2008, the year he was appointed as a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, he participated in a concert held in ancient Petra in memory of Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti. This raised funds for Afghan refugee returnees.

By Greg Beals in Za'atri Refugee Camp, Jordan

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After Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled in Iraq in 2003, groups of refugees who had lived in the country for many years tried to leave the chaos and lawlessness that soon ensued. Hundreds of people started fleeing to the border with Jordan, including Palestinians in Baghdad and Iranian Kurds from the Al Tash refugee camp in central Iraq.

Aside from a few Palestinians with family connections inside the neighbouring country, the refugees were refused entry and free movement in Jordan. Thousands were soon stranded in the no-man's land between Iraq and Jordan or at the desert camp of Ruweished, located 60 kilometres inside Jordan.

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