The New York Times reports: As the West grapples with a new flood of asylum seekers bursting across Europe’s borders, the vast majority of Syrian refugees remain in the region: 1.9 million in Turkey, 1.2 million in Lebanon and 630,000 registered here in Jordan. Underfunded aid agencies and overburdened host countries have been struggling for years to support them.
With the World Food Program having cut vouchers this month to 229,000 Syrians living in Jordanian cities — where it is illegal for them to work — the once-reviled Zaatari (pronounced ZAHT-ah-ree) is increasingly seen as the most stable spot for refugees. While growing numbers yearn to join the exodus to Europe, many in the camp have all but surrendered to a life of limited possibilities.
Until recently, virtually every family imagined an imminent return to Syria as soon as President Bashar al-Assad fell. Now, many see their beloved homeland as lost, and grudgingly accept that Zaatari is somewhere they will be a while.
Refugees have planted vegetables, flowers, even trees that will not bear fruit for years in their compounds cobbled from corrugated tin and trailers. Unicef is spending $37.7 million to install water and sewage systems and Germany $20 million to build a solar field. A recent United Nations report estimated that residents run 2,500 shops — scores of new ones repair bicycles — generating $14 million a month.
“We’ve become used to a system here, and a way of life,” explained Ola Mahmeed, 26, a mother of five who was applying for a two-day “vacation” to visit relatives in nearby Irbid. “There’s order, in terms of security, in terms of services. Anything I can think of I can find now in the market.”
Zaatari’s occupants say they would still jump at any chance to leave. Complaints are rife about electricity, which since June has been available only at night; rationed water; and, especially, the dismal quality of the schools. Last year, classes in the camp were crammed with up to 90 children; of those who took Jordan’s 12th-grade exam, 3 percent passed. [Continue reading…]