Life begins again at Azraq for Syrian refugees

The first signs of life have begun to show at the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan.

Amid the row upon row of white framed shelters that cover the sandy hillside, children can be seen playing, while their parents wash clothes, gather supplies and talk amongst themselves about what the future may hold.

Welcome to Village 3, Block 15, Post 9 at Azraq, where the first few hundred Syrian refugees who will inhabit this sprawling camp have now been settled. This initial group arrived before the official opening at Azraq, which took place on 30 April, 2014. The aim of these early arrivals is to provide opportunities for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and its partner humanitarian agencies like World Vision  to ensure that the reception and settlement process for the refugees runs as smoothly as possible. By mid-May, several hundred Syrian refugees will be arriving at the camp on a daily basis.

World Vision water and sanitation specialist Lubna Labieb moves amongst the shelters at a brisk pace. She’s here to provide hygiene information to the refugees and explain to them about water conservation measures that are in place in the camp. World Vision is responsible for providing water and sanitation services for up to 30,000 Syrian refugees at Azraq, and has laid more than 12 kilometres of pipeline to bring water to more than 130 water taps spread strategically throughout Village 3.

The refugees are wary when Lubna first approaches them. They are reluctant to be photographed, fearing that the publication of their pictures might cause harm to relatives and friends still remaining in Syria. Slowly, under Lubna’s patient questioning, their stories begin to come out.

“We have been travelling for five straight days after taking nine days to reach the Jordanian border,” says one woman. “All we can think about is how tired we are. But there’s still so much to do.”

Other refugees express concern for those who still remain in Syria, and talk of shortages of water and food in their hometowns.

The men will not permit to have their pictures taken but, thanks to Lubna, they agree to allow their children to be photographed.

For their part, the children show little joy in their new surroundings. They cling close to their parents and rarely permit themselves to smile. This isn’t surprising given everything they’ve seen and heard in the days and weeks leading up to their arrival at Azraq. While all of the ones we saw looked clean and in reasonable health, it’s hard to know what kinds of hurt they are holding inside as they contemplate what lies ahead.

There are some positive facts to point out as well. Based on experiences learned at other refugee camps, efforts are made to keep families and relatives together as much as possible. Although there is no electrical service within refugee settlements, families have been provided with solar lanterns to help guide their way at night. Food and water is available now, and schools and the camp’s hospital will begin operating in the coming weeks.

Despite all of this, there can be no doubt that life will be hard for the Syrian refugee families at Azraq. In the weeks to come, these first few hundred will be joined by thousands more. They will join the more than 2.5 million Syrians who have fled their country since the conflict began in March 2011.

Still, despite all they have endured, the refugees have hope for a better future – that one day, they and their children will be able to return to Syria.