I’ve been in refugee camps where people are listless, resigned; where everyone seems suspended in a state of traumatized limbo. But Za’atari camp in the north of Jordan, where tens of thousands of Syrian refugees now reside, is different. Za’atari is seething.
People here give off a manic, restless energy. Some seem ready to snap from the sheer, relentless boredom. There are people who have been here now for more than two years, with literally nothing to do. “It’s like you are living without your life,” was how one young man described being a refugee. He was quiet, with a sad smile. But other men here exude pure anger.
Shortly after we left the camp, Jordanian police fired rounds of tear gas at a crowd of refugees. It’s become a common occurrence, rioting that’s often spontaneous; despair ignited by frustration.
An aid worker in the camp told us that “aggressive injury,” is the most commonly treated ailment in the camp’s clinics. Fights between the men break out almost every day. Given what everyone here has been through, it’s not surprising. But the fights are not just a reaction to life in the camp. The political rifts that are tearing Syria apart are palpable in the refugee camp as well. Za’atari is home to Assad backers as well as supporters of the opposition. People say that since the nearby border to Syria is open, fighters from the Free Syrian Army battling Assad’s government deliver their families to the relative safety of the camp, rest a bit, and then cross back into Syria to continue the war. Others stay in the camp to recover from injuries.
As we leave the camp, low-flying planes roar overhead in the direction of Syria. “More Saudi weapons for the opposition,” our driver says knowingly. “I don’t know how this war will ever end, with everyone throwing gasoline on the fire.”