Every human has innate survival instincts. Every parent is protective of his or her children. Today I witnessed something I never thought I would see, the absolute look of despair and the need to survive in the eyes of women and men in the Al Zaatari Syrian Refugee Camp along the north Jordanian border near Syria.
The human toll and suffering at the hands of another makes one wonder why the world response to the crisis of Syria is not more commanding, decisive, and united. It is hard, no the word hard is an understatement, its unimaginable, when trying to comprehend the actions of one man and how his hold on power is so overwhelming that he cannot and will not do what is best for his people.
As families in Syria fear for their lives, that protective survival instinct kicks in, and people will do almost anything to survive. In so many cases today in northern Jordan, I saw that. Mothers and fathers were so desperate that they left their homes in darkness with just what they could carry to move into a tent pitched in the middle of the desert.
Please don’t misunderstand, the country of Jordan is doing more than any one nation should be asked to do. And just eight months ago, there was only desert where 120,000 people now live in tents and temporary mobile units. Yes, the residents have food, some security, health care, and education. But this is no way for families and children to live. There is overcrowding and a sense of hopelessness in many of the eyes that I gazed into. The international response has been good, but with 2,000 refugees fleeing Syria into Jordan every night, the camp is now the 4th largest city in Jordan and by the end of this year, another 500,000 refugees are expected to cross into Jordan.
I watched new arrivals today setting up tents in the outskirts of the existing camp boundary as the planners and managers of the camp prepare for the newest influx of residents. It’s hot and sandy in the desert, there is frustration. Life at a refugee camp is heartless, families live there with their children and are secluded, refugees are deprived of any social interaction with the surrounding community. As frustration grows, and money runs low, social norms begin to break down. Without the proper resources, Jordan cannot provide the correct level of security and gang violence beings to invade the camp. Burglary, vandalism, and violence against women are on the rise and trafficking is occurring.
No words can come close to properly conveying what I saw today. But I know one thing, countless people are working hard to ensure that as many people as possible remain safe and secure. Despite this Herculean effort on behalf of Jordan and its international partners, there appears to be no easy solution to the Syrian crisis. A reasonable and sustainable political solution must be found to address the Syrian crisis immediately.
Then and only then will these people be able to return home to their villages and towns and the life they knew before coming here. As I left the camp today, I looked out the window of the bus and thanked God for all that the world was providing to these people, prayed for resolution in Syria, and prayed that the inevitable clash of survival instincts and reality did not result in more pain and suffering for these people struggling to survive in a harsh place in a strange land.