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Inside Azraq, Jordan's newest refugee camp

Jordan, Syria, June 16, 2014

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  • Photos: Sumaya Agha for Mercy Corps

This is Azraq Camp, the newest safe haven for Syrian refugees in Jordan. Since it opened on April 30, more than 8,000 refugees from all over war-torn Syria — Aleppo, Damascus, Homs, Dara’a and more — have already taken shelter here. Between 300 and 500 new refugees arrive every day.

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Located in the desert of northern Jordan, Azraq was built by the Jordanian government and UNHCR to house up to 130,000 people. Using lessons learned from Zaatari Camp, which opened in 2012 and currently hosts more than 80,000 refugees, it was designed to give Syrian refugees a better sense of security amid the uncertain future they face.

In Azraq, families live in steel caravans instead of traditional tents, which are set up in rows resembling streets. The caravans will eventually be divided into six villages, like Village Three, where the current residents live.

The organization of the caravans into rows and villages makes it easier for families and aid groups to locate a specific shelter, and provides a much-needed sense of community and structure for the refugees living in the camp.

Bathrooms are located at end of each caravan row, and refugees will get their water from taps located throughout the camp, like the one pictured above.

The first well drilled by UNHCR is expected to meet the needs of the camp for the next three or four months. Mercy Corps teams are testing the water quality and connecting the water from the well to the tap stations. We’re also working to drill another well and expand storage capacity as Azraq’s population expands.

At the well-stocked camp supermarket, refugee families are given credit to purchase food instead of receiving it through distributions.

The credit gives refugees ownership of their food choices, which helps provide a sense of independence and allows them to continue their family traditions. They have portable gas stoves in their caravans to prepare meals.

Children make up almost half the population of Azraq. We’ve opened ten child-friendly spaces, four adolescent-friendly spaces, four multipurpose courts and four playgrounds to give them a safe place to spend their time and receive support.

The sites are given names of popular cartoons — Tom and Jerry, Sponge Bob, Smurfs — and host activities like arts and crafts, Legos, singing and games.

The Smurfs space also serves as the camp’s lost and found center for children to reconnect with their families if they get lost.

And in Tom and Jerry, kids are encouraged to create the rules for the space by writing their ideas — no fighting, listen and respect the feelings of others — in the “heart contract” every day.

For refugee families facing indefinite displacement, the safe spaces and activities are a secure place for refugee children to play, learn and heal from the trauma of war as they adjust to new lives in Azraq.

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