More and more Syrians flee to Jordan | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 23.10.2012
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Middle East

More and more Syrians flee to Jordan

Some 150,000 to 200,000 Syrian refugees are living in Jordan, in camps and rented apartments. DW visits a soldier, a politician and a business owner who fled the violence.

Every day, hundreds of Syrian refugees reach Jordan - on some days, there are thousands of them. Zaatari, the largest refugee camp, is home to 30,000 people. But not all the refugees live in the camps; some stay with friends and relatives or rent apartments and rooms.

A home away from home

Yousof is the father of two girls. Rana is four years old and Sahar is six. He, like his father before him, used to have a shop in Damascus selling heaters. He was able to save money every month - until a tank completely destroyed his shop. "I was worried about my children and the safety of our family," he told Deutsche Welle. "So with the money I'd saved, I bribed the officials at the airport and we were able to get to Amman."

Syrian children play outside a UNHCR tent in Jordan (Photo: Felix Gaedtke)

The UNHCR estimates 700,000 Syrians will flee this year

Because they came by plane, they did not have to go to a refugee camp. Yousof now lives with his wife and two children in a small but tidy apartment in Amman. The family has created a little island of normalcy. But just like the people in the refugee camp, they also have to deal with memories of the events in Syria. In a low voice, the father speaks about the many hours the family spent in the basement where they hid during the fighting - he tried to tell the children that it was all a game and that the family was just camping in the basement.

Rama and her sister wear the same clothes: white shoes with flowers, pink pants and a white dress. Rama had an imaginary friend in Syria: Tamim. She told Tamim everything. Since she has been in Jordan, she has not spoken to him. She says, "Now Tamim is dead."

Special camps for deserted soldiers

Theoretically, Syrian soldiers who have deserted are housed in special refugee camps. They are strictly separated from Syrian civilians. Many of them have had a long and difficult road behind them.

But not all soldiers end up in these camps. Some have been able to pose as civilians and thus have escaped internment. One of these soldiers is 21-year-old Abdelqadar. He was able to use connections to move into a room in Amman. He is tall and has a firm handshake. His laugh is friendly and a little shy. He was the bodyguard of a high-ranking military officer until he was asked one day to fire on protesting youths. He fled, but was caught.

Abdelqadar, a Syrian army deserter (Photo: Felix Gaedtke)

Abdelqadar deserted the Syrian army when he was told to fire on protesters

"When I arrived in prison they pulled a sheet over my head and stripped me naked before they began to torture me," Abdelqadar said. He was tortured for fifteen days. "Every other day, I got a cup of water and moldy bread. I was sure this was the end - I was going to die and that was that," he said, taking a deep drag on his cigarette.

After several months, he managed to escape to Jordan with the help of the opposition Free Syrian Army. Today he wants to fight again. "Many of my friends are rebels. I need a passport - then I'll go through Turkey to Syria and will fight with them." He shakes his head and says: "I will never forgive what they did to me. I will take revenge and kill them." He stubs out his cigarette and stares in silence.

Defecting parliamentarians

Hatem Althaher also managed to escape from Syria. He's sitting on the large sofa of ​​a luxury apartment in Amman. "I encouraged people to join the revolution," he says. "When this became known, they wanted to arrest me." But Althaher was warned and immediately left the country. Until a few months ago, he sat as a member of the Syrian parliament.

He came with his wife and five children from Daraa across the border. He has good connections that allowed him to arrange to move into this apartment. Many of his relatives are still in Syria. "This is a test for the world. This will tell whether they are serious about human rights or if this is just hypocrisy," he said.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that 700,000 Syrians will have left their country by the end of the year. The refugees from Syria lead very different lives in Jordan. But one thing unites them: They hope that they can soon return to their home - and to a normal life once more.

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