Inside Al-Zaatari Camp in the Jordanian desert, Syrian refugees are supposed to be escaping the bloody uprising next door; instead, young children are dying because of appalling conditions. “People have no shoes to wear,” Walid Safour, representative of the Syrian National Coalition in the UK tells me, “and only thin clothes. People are living in tents in this very severe winter; it is affecting their health. The situation is miserable and tragic.”
On Wednesday, the United Nations called for $1.5 billion in aid to help the Syrian humanitarian crisis. It might help to provide nutritious food, in larger quantities, adequate clothing and medicine to combat spreading viruses. But even this may not be enough. “The situation is so bad,” says Safour, “that even if substantial help was offered it would not meet needs of the increasing number of people.” Later, he adds, “People are certain of death. Many of them will die in the biting winter.”
There are many refugees who live outside the camp, in Amman and other Jordanian cities. Their situation is far from perfect, but at least they do have houses or flats to rent; some are even working to earn their living. “I appeal to the international community, to charitable organisations and to the Jordanian authorities to improve the situation, or allow these people to go and manage their lives in the cities,” pleads Safour.
A substantial and national operation on the ground is needed to improve conditions. “The people in Al-Zaatari Camp in Jordan are facing a very bad and depressing situation. I appeal to the international community to move them to proper accommodation, to provide them with the proper food and the proper clothing. The situation they are facing is inhuman.”
Such bad conditions have left him wondering why Al-Zaatari was even constructed in the first place. The situation is so bad that for some refugees the prospect of heading back to Syria is brighter than staying. “They are looking for an alternative; maybe they found that going back to their homes or their relatives or somewhere else is better than staying in Al Zatari,” explains Safour.
It is uncertain how many refugees are actually in the camps; many are not registered with the United Nations offices. There are people, who are not necessarily registered, stranded in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Saudi Arabia. The UN forecast that by the end of the year there would be 700,000 refugees in neighbouring countries; Safour reckons the figure is closer to a million.
He is clear that the international community is not helping adequately. One of the problems are the sanctions put in place against Syria by the international community, a direct result of the conflict. According to Safour, many of the large, private charities in the UK have millions of pounds in their accounts, but are just not able to spend it due to the regulations of Britain’s Charity Commission and the banks because of the sanctions against Syria.
“I want the international community to consider these people and to be lenient in their consideration of what aid is going to go to the Syrian refugees and to the Syrian people, not to the Syrian regime which killed and is killing its people.”
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