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As death and destruction rain down in Syria, refugees flee with lives to Jordan

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
May 16th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

As the death toll mounts in Syria, battered by two years of civil war, thousands of civilians have fled into neighboring Jordan's al-Zaatari refugee camp. The al-Zaatari camp is expected to become the largest refugee sanctuary in the world shortly. Dadaab, near the Somali border in Kenya, is often referred to as being the largest, estimated to be holding nearly half a million refugees.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - On days when the violence in Syria is especially dire, between 2,000-4,000 Syrians flood into Zaatari. "Things are happening in Syria that our minds couldn't even imagine," a 65-year-old woman refugee tells journalists. "People were being captured and they were slaughtering them like chickens."

Nearly half a million Syrian refugees have crossed into Jordan since the war began. The Zaatari camp is now the fifth largest population center in Jordan.

"We need the United Nation's assistance, and we need it immediately," Jordanian Minister of Interior Hussein Majali told Al Jazeera. Speaking alongside UNHCR head Andrew Harper, Majali had nothing but high praise for the U.N.'s efforts, but says that much more remains to be done.

"We could see two million refugees in Jordan by the end of the year," Majali added. "This crisis is affecting Jordan on every level, healthcare, economically, education, all our sectors are being stressed."

IN the meantime, violence in Syria has only increased. According to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an average of 196 people died each day in April, which is an increase from 190 per day in March. Of the people killed last month, nearly 6,000 were civilians.

The population of Zaatari continues to grow, with new refugees arriving from both outside and inside the camp. "Sources tell us there are now up to 66 births daily inside Zaatari," Majali added.

Jordan has always had a large refugee population. Aside from more than 300,000 Palestinians living in refugee camps here, many Iraqis remain in Jordan as a result of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of their country.

According to the refugee affairs coordinator for Jordan's ministry of interior, Saleh al-Kilani, his country already hosted 750,000 refugees before the Syrian conflict began, and now has more than 1,250,000.

"53,000 refugees entered here in April alone," Kilani says. "We also have thousands of what we call double refugees, which are Palestinian refugees who were in Syria who had to come here, in addition to Iraqi refugees in Syria who had to flee here."

The refugee crisis is costing the Jordanian government approximately $3,500 per refugee per year, and his government has already spent $826 million on the current crisis.

"We never turn any refugee away, but we've not been fully compensated by the international community for these costs," he added.

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