x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

'Now that I am here I want to go back'

The Zaatari camp is home to more than 32,000 people. Another 170,000 have spread out into Jordan, mostly in tents in the desert, or in small brick huts.

MAFRAQ, JORDAN // Many of the thousands of refugees who make it to Jordan ask to return to Syria, according to the United National Higher Commission for Refugees.

The Zaatari camp is home to more than 32,000 people. Another 170,000 have spread out into Jordan, mostly in tents in the desert, or in small brick huts.

Even those in the Zaatari camp are living under canvas. They are given two meals a day - more than those out in the desert have, but it's hardly luxury.

There have been bouts of illness, and the nights are cold.

According to the World Food Programme, half the children in the camp suffer malnutrition.

And the result, says Andrew Harper, a representative of the UNHCR is that a 100 people a day ask to return to the privations of home.

"They need more support, to be put in a proper shelter," he said. "Also help those out in the community. Help the Jordanians."

Umm Khalid was among those considering asking to go home. "It took me three days to get to Jordan," she said. "But now that I am here, I want to go back."

Her husband and brother were both in the Free Syrian Army. Both are now dead. "I have nothing to live for, and here we are just living on dirt and in dirt."

Her home in Homs, too, was destroyed. But plenty of buildings are now unoccupied.

"If not in Homs, I can go to Deraa, if not there, I can go to Damascus, Deir Ezzour, anywhere in Syria."

She knows there are dangers, but that may be better than her sister-in-law's overcrowded house. It is home to 32 people, although when the three bedrooms are full some sleep under a tree outside.

Abu Mohamed, who lives in a cluster of tents with 70 refugees in Umm Al Quttain, said he too was welcomed by Jordanian army, but life was hard.

"Sometimes we have no food, we rely on good people who pass by to give us any," he said. "We live in a desert."

The flow of refugees has waned since earlier in the month, from about 3,000 a day to somewhere between 500 and 600. But according to Mr Harper that is likely to increase. Recent violence in several cities has left many trapped in their homes, waiting of a chance to escape, while others are stuck at the border itself.

osalem@thenational.ae