One year in Zaatari: Life inside the world's second largest refugee camp

Published July 30th, 2013 - 02:09 GMT

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Image 1 of 12: Just over half the refugees in Zaatari are under the age of 18, and these youth are certainly thrown into the eye of the Syrian storm. It's all hands on deck as children face the very adult realities of survival and setting up camp. (AlBawaba/J. Zach Hollo)

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Image 1 of 12: Scoping out the new home: Two new arrivals to the Zaatari camp inspect the tent that will be their humble abode. (AlBawaba/J. Zach Hollo)

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Image 1 of 12: Breaking bread in the makeshift home: A father and son prepare for lunch in their tent, as camp residents scramble what little they have together. (AlBawaba/J. Zach Hollo)

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Image 1 of 12: A flimsy foundation for the children of the crisis: A child leans against a rope supporting a newly assembled tent at Zaatari. (AlBawaba/J. Zach Hollo)

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Image 1 of 12: The weathered face tells a thousand words of suffering: Mohammad Qassam al-Lubad arrived at Zaatari at midnight on May 11 after fleeing Sanamayn, a Syrian village near the small but pivotal city of Daraa, just north of the border with Jordan. (AlBawaba/J. Zach Hollo)

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Image 1 of 12: Mohammad Qassam al-Lubad holds zikr beads and heart medication. Before the revolution sparked in March, 2011, al-Lubad had heart surgery. He said obtaining medication at Zaatari is extremely difficult. (AlBawaba/J. Zach Hollo)

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Image 1 of 12: Where people flow, water runs dry: The influx of refugees could be squeezing the camp dry as Syrians stand in line to fill bottles of water. Many refugees blame Zaatari’s water for illnesses contracted in the camp. (AlBawaba/J. Zach Hollo)

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Image 1 of 12: Regional and international aid has not been in short supply, but the Syrians' needs are vast. A box of food and miscellaneous supplies lists donor nations. (AlBawaba/J. Zach Hollo)

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Image 1 of 12: Childhood dreams: Maryam al-Lubad, 10, draws arabic letters on a notebook with her five-year-old brother Ahmad. Maryam loves calligraphy and drawing. Someday, she hopes to be an artist. (AlBawaba/J. Zach Hollo)

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Image 1 of 12: Record refugees: A view of the layout of some of the tents in Zaatari. Now Jordan’s fourth biggest town and the second largest refugee camp in the world, it is home to over 150,000 people according to UN estimates. (AlBawaba/J. Zach Hollo)

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Image 1 of 12: A young boy and his brother carry water to their tents in front of a wall covered in graffiti. (AlBawaba/J. Zach Hollo)

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Image 1 of 12: Barbed wire encloses the refugee camp, with some displaced Syrians referring to Zaatari as a prison. (AlBawaba/J. Zach Hollo)

On July 29th the second largest refugee camp in the world, Zaatari, marks its first anniversary.

The camp has come a long way in a year. Initially living in tents, refugees are now increasingly housed in caravans. Winter at Zaatari was especially hard for those in tents, although ironically during the hot summer months many refugees now choose to spend time in these, which are cooler, than the metal caravans where the heat can be
intense.

The Jordanian government estimates that 554,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in Jordan since March 2011. One hundred and fifty thousand of that number live at Zaatari, making the refugee camp Jordan's fourth largest city.

Zaatari is now a sprawl of destitute urban life. Shops throng its main thoroughfare, selling everything from toothpaste to wedding dresses. Children- although by no means all- attend school in the camp, and there is also a Zaatari mosque. Some refugees even have satellite television!

However there is no escaping the fact this is still a refugee camp. Zaatari is filled with NGOs and aid agencies which provide people with food ration cards and other essential items: not everyone can afford to buy food from shops, and when bread is handed out to thousands of people every morning, tensions run high. Lastly, Syrians who have escaped a homeland ripped apart by conflict are traumatized by the violence they have experienced, mourning the people they have lost.

It is estimated that 250 refugees a day return to Syria, perhaps a reflection that for some, life back at home, however bad, is better than a life led as a stateless refugee.

A look in pictures at how Zaatari camp has come along since the first wave of fleeing Syrians pitched up their tents.

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