Halabat: the first ever images from the new Syrian refugee camp in Jordan

Published January 28th, 2013 - 06:30 GMT
The Halabat camp in the middle of the Jordanian desert awaits the influx of Syrian refugees.
The Halabat camp in the middle of the Jordanian desert awaits the influx of Syrian refugees.

Nestled away in the isolated Jordanian desert, on the Amman – Baghdad highway, authorities are making a new refugee camp for Syrians seeking to escape the 22-month civil war, and unlike Zaatari, this new facility, planned to open on Wednesday, looks a lot more permanent.

The last few days have seen an unprecedented influx of Syrian refugees in to Jordan. In an effort to deal with the mounting humanitarian crisis in the Kingdom, aid agencies are working hard to finish the new facility, Halabat camp, located east of the city of Zarqa, 25km to the north of the capital.

The new camp, hemmed in by 2-meter tall razor wire, is so far funded by the United Arab Emirates and is a world away from the tented city of Zaatari, a further 60 kilometers to the north. New residents here will benefit from caravans, purpose built schools, large communal kitchens and tarmacked roads.

Halabat is expected to hold approximately 5,000 Syrians in its first phase, “with a plan to increase the capacity to 30,000 people," UNHCR's Melissa Flemming said in a statement on Friday.

When asked who would come to Habalat, as opposed to Zaatari, where conditions are considerably worse, the project manager, who wished to remain unnamed explained, “it will be for families in trouble, those in need.”

Each new family will have a caravan structure, lined up in neat, planned rows, equidistance apart, as per the exacting standards of the Jordanian Army, who designed the site.

The project manager showing us around said he hoped that the Syrians could return home soon, “God willing, by summer.”

However, the schooling facilities and extensive plumbing does not give the impression that they will, and it appears that aid agencies and the Jordanian government are planning to host families for an extended period of time.

The site is also preparing to host hundreds of unaccompanied children, with two hangar-like structures to house them, each one 400 square meters. It is thought that children make up around half of the 65,000 people in Zaatari, putting significant strain on resources. Halabat at least feels ready for the initial influx.

At the current rate of crossing, Jordan would need to open a new camp like this one every two days to keep up with demand. However, it took three months to build this site, two of which were under construction, whilst the extra month accounts for delays after money ran out.

“JD6.8 million ($10million) this has cost, and that is the cheap version, we originally were going to spend JD10 million ($14 million), but we were asked to reduce the cost,” the project manager explained.

Figures from the UNHCR put the number at over 30,000 who have crossed in to the Kingdom since the start of 2013. The Jordanian government estimate that there are over 300,000 Syrians now residing in the country, the vast majority of them remain in the towns and villages near the border.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos on Friday last week, King Abdullah II urged more donations to help his country deal with the refugees. The Kingdom itself is dealing with a struggling economy.

There are thought to be tens of thousands still waiting to cross and rumors surfaced that the border was closed several times on Wednesday evening when 6,000 sought refuge. An aid worker at Halabat, who also declined to be named, confirmed this but said any 'shutting' was to regulate the flow.

The increase in the number seeking refugee status is thought to be caused by an escalation in the fighting in the southern province of Dera’a coupled with a scarcity of cooking gas, fuel, and bread.

Jordan said earlier in January it was considering closing the border if a massive refugee crisis was sparked by the fall of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus.


By Matthew Woodcraft and Salem Husseini  

Should Jordan build another camp every two days? Who should be funding the Syrian refugee crisis? Tell us what you think below.

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