This morning a new UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) refugee camp, Camp Azraq, opened in Jordan. As of today, the new camp will receive all of the 300-400 Syrians entering Jordan every day while Jordan’s well-known Camp Zaatari will no longer receive refugees. Like Zaatari, Camp Azraq is located in the desert about 20 kilometers from the nearest town of Azraq.
Upon opening, Camp Azraq consists of almost 5,000 shelters that can house up to 25,000 refugees, and is designed to accommodate up to 130,000 people over time, the upper estimate of the number of Zaatari residents at its peak. Drawing on lessons learned from the sometimes tense experience of running Zaatari, where all services are located on one side of the camp, the UNHCR has built Camp Azraq in distinct “neighborhoods.” Each neighborhood has its own services, such as schools, child friendly spaces, and hospitals. The goal is to foster a sense of community and ownership, in recognition of the fact that refugees might be staying for quite some time.
The opening of Camp Azraq reflects the reality that the violence driving Syria’s citizens to flee shows no sign of letting up. The Syria conflict has produced more than 2.7 million refugees so far, and about 6.5 million people are displaced within Syria. About 80% of refugees in the region live outside of camps, often disconnected from the services they need.
As Jordan prepares to receive more refugees, the United States should commit to host some of these refugees through a strong resettlement initiative. U.S. leadership would encourage other states to fulfill their commitments and send a signal to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey that the international community will stand with them in addressing the human consequences of this overwhelming tragedy.
The United States has a proud tradition of welcoming refugees fleeing persecution, and a vital strategic interest in fostering stability in countries like Jordan and Lebanon. We should commit to providing refuge to at least 15,000 Syrian refugees this year and substantially more in subsequent years.
To learn more read Refuge at Risk: The Syria Crisis and U.S. Leadership and Human Rights First’s TRIG Fact Sheet.