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Syria crisis: mass exodus to Za’atari

“This is an exodus! Nearly 22,000 people have come into the camp in the past week, 6,000 alone in the past two days.

“Most people are arriving with just the clothes on their back. They fled for their lives, unable to grab anything from their homes. I’ve seen women covering themselves only with a large shawl and children without shoes.”

This is how one Save the Children worker at Za’atari, the largest Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, described the crisis as I arrived at the camp.

Syrian refugees arrive at the registration area in the camp. Image: Mohamad Alasmar/Save the Children

The camp population has recently soared to 60,000 people – a 20% increase since the start of the year.

Za’atari is turning into a small town. There are shops opening on the side of the camp’s main road, set up by refugees themselves, as well as small eateries, coffee shops, barbers and stalls selling food, clothes and other household items.

From a high vantage point, one can see endless rows of tents, interspersed with toilets, schools and distribution centres.

A long journey to safety

As I entered the camp, there were dozens of vehicles unloading people near the registration centre.

A little boy ran up to me, yelling something in Arabic. My colleague intervened and found out he was asking where to get breakfast.

We walked back to his family and told them about the Save the Children tent nearby where they can get welcome meals, made up of hummus, beans, juice, tuna, crackers and honey.

The family had hastily fled their homes in Syria after hearing news of bombardment in their area. After travelling overnight, they reached the border near Za’atari at dawn.

While waiting for registration, the father told me he was worried about what kind of accommodation he would get for his family. But he thanked God that at least his children were now safe from harm.

Rising frustration

There was a large tent nearby where the newly registered families were given blankets, mattresses, buckets, water bottles, soap, cleaning powder and other sanitary items.

There was a huge crowd pushing against the fence around the tent. Though the camp staff insisted people queue to speed up the distribution, most of the men and women were furious about the delay in receiving their supplies.

When pushing and shoving started, which would have eventually led to a riot, senior camp management arrived at the scene. The situation was controlled when some of the frustrated families agreed to be patient and wait their turn.


Save the Children is responsible for the general food distribution in the camp. I saw long lines of families sitting with boxes of their bi-monthly rations. Many had recently arrived and were delighted to receive the rations.

While talking to a colleague who was supervising the distribution, a man ran up to us clutching a little girl in his arms. His face covered with a red kaffiya (traditional headscarf), he yelled at us to help his daughter.

She’d been sick for many days and was running a high fever since last night. Now she was barely conscious and couldn’t even sit up straight.

My colleague immediately rushed them to the camp hospital. I later learned that the girl was given medicine and doctors observed her for many hours in case she had to be transferred outside of the camp.

Hundreds of men, women and children are arriving at Za’atari in similar conditions.

Separated children

Syrian children in the camp. Image: Mohamad Alasmar/Save the Children

Near the reception area, Save the Children is caring for unaccompanied and separated children.

There were 14 boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 15 who were residing at special designated areas.

About two to three such children are arriving at the camp every day. Most are connected with their families or relations within the camp.

However, four unaccompanied children have been living at the space for the past three months.

The Save the Children team have been working day and night to assist the refugees in Za’atari, and there’s good coordination between all the NGOs and agencies working to make room for new refugees.

But everyone is anxious about what will happen if this exodus continues. Will the humanitarian community and the Jordanian government be able to shelter, feed and clothe another 60,000 people?

Please donate to our Syria appeal now – we urgently need your help

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