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Jordan opens second camp for Syrian refugees

April 10, 2013|By Emily Alpert
  • Syrians carry their belongings as they arrive at the Mrajeeb Fhood refugee camp in Zarqa, Jordan
Syrians carry their belongings as they arrive at the Mrajeeb Fhood refugee… (Mohammad Hannon / Associated…)

Jordan on Wednesday opened a second camp to shelter the increasing numbers of refugees pouring out of Syria, one day after a United Nations official warned that the regional crisis had hit “a breaking point.”

About 100 Syrians arrived Wednesday at the Mrajeeb Fhood camp, said Andrew Harper, the U.N. refugee agency representative in Jordan. The new camp, funded by the United Arab Emirates and operated by its Red Crescent Society, is equipped with solar power and a water treatment plant, Harper said.

"It's been built to a much higher standard" than the existing refugee camp in Jordan, Harper said Wednesday in a telephone interview from near the Jaber border crossing. "But when we have thousands coming across every month, it's not possible to keep those standards in the other camps."

Syrian refugees fleeing their country's civil war have already packed the Zaatari camp northeast of Amman, which was built for 50,000 refugees but hosted more than twice as many people as of late March. Riots and protests have erupted at the crowded camp, notorious for its harsh conditions.

Some frustrated refugees have chosen to risk the perils of Syria rather than stay at the Zaatari camp. "We would rather die in Syria than live here," several men told the Los Angeles Times earlier this year, as they waited for a bus back to the Syrian border.

The new camp is meant to help ease the pressure on Zaatari, but is projected to be much smaller. Mrajeeb Fhood will initially hold about 4,500 to 5,000 refugees and is hoped to increase in size to hold about 25,000, Harper said.

"It's a welcome step to accommodate refugees," he said. "But we have to build other camps. ... The support has not matched the massive influx."

Harper estimated that it could take two months before a third camp can be opened, as his agency works to build roads and drill wells in the area.

The outpouring of Syrians has strained resources across the region. More than 1.3 million Syrian refugees have sought help in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, and the number could exceed 4 million by the end of the year, the U.N. refugee agency said this week.

"We feel we have reached a breaking point," U.N. regional coordinator for Syrian refugees Panos Moumtzis told reporters Tuesday in Geneva.

The agency has pleaded for $1 billion to care for the exploding ranks of Syrian refugees, but has only received $300 million. Seven thousand more Syrian refugees register every day, according to the U.N. agency.

Moumtzis warned that the shortfall could put women and children at risk of sexual exploitation as they try to provide for their struggling families. Camps in Iraq are already suffering from poor sanitation and rampant overcrowding as more refugees arrive, the U.N. reported last week.

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