‘I’m scared for what’s in store’: the future for refugees in Jordan
In crowded refugee camps like Azraq, the impact of coronavirus could be devastating.
The war in Syria has been ongoing since 2011. In nine years of conflict, more than 500,000 people have been killed or gone missing. 6.2 million Syrians have been internally displaced and another 5.7 million have fled abroad.
But who are the people behind the numbers and what are their daily lives like now as they face the crisis of coronavirus?
Having spent time with some of the people living in the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan, I’m scared for what’s in store for them as this pandemic unfolds. The healthcare facilities and living conditions will undoubtedly put many lives at risk.
I first visited Azraq in 2018 with our charity partner Chelsea Football Club, when we held football training sessions with the children living in Village 5.
The camp is located in the desert on the Jordan/Syria border. Sand stretches as far as the eye can see, except for the metal shelters that are home to around 37,000 Syrian refugees.
There is barbed wire and check points but no grass, no trees and no birds. Just the harsh sun beating down in the day and freezing cold nights.
The camp is divided into villages, or zones. Plan International is one of few aid agencies working in Village 5, leading on child protection and supporting mothers and girls with parenting classes and emotional support through handicrafts, music, reading and sport.
And while the football sessions we delivered were hugely popular, it was hard to forget they were only a temporary respite from the circumstances the children and their families were facing.
“We met some very young kids, they're living in really desperate conditions,” says Bruce Buck, the chairman of Chelsea FC, who joined us on the visit.
“They have enough food but otherwise it's very unsatisfactory. People really shouldn't be living this way.”
I had the honour of meeting many inspirational people on my visit. The one person who stays with me at this time is Alia, the lead volunteer for Plan International in the camp. A mum of six who was a teacher in Syria, she’s well respected in Village 5 and oversees the running of the Plan International activities.
Being a similar age, with two children of similar ages and a similar drive and sense of humour, we bonded instantly. Alia had fled her home with her family while heavily pregnant, giving birth in the desert before finding shelter in the camp.
Before the coronavirus crisis began, the community in the Azraq refugee camp were already living in crisis. They have fled war and death. Now they’re surviving with just the bare essentials: basic shelters called ‘caravans’, shared toilets and shared wells.
In this environment, where social distancing is near-impossible, the threat posed by coronavirus is overwhelming. It’s essential that we act now to protect the children and their families who are most at risk.
*Name has been changed to protect identities
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