By: Dale Gavlak
RIBAA SARHAN, Jordan — Jordan is setting up a refugee camp near its northern border with Syria, in preparation for what many fear may be a mass exodus of Syrians fleeing violence in their homeland, an official said Sunday.
Sami Halaseh, who oversees the project for the public works ministry, said the 323 square-foot (300 square-meter) area, located about 12 miles (20 kilometers) south of the border, is expected to be ready in two weeks after bathrooms and hangers for food distribution are installed. He said the project cost $1 million.
Water tanks and lighting have been installed in the area where the camp will be located in the mostly desert region. No tents have been erected nor are there any occupants at this time.
The camp will be monitored by a round-the-clock police guard. It’s the first camp to be set up for Syrians in Jordan since the uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime began eleven months ago.
Aid officials estimate upwards of 10,000 Syrian refugees already live in Jordan, mostly in private apartments, guest houses or hosted by families. But they said the numbers are growing as the Syrian military escalates attacks on restive cities, such as Homs in the north and Daraa in the south.
The United Nations refugee agency has worked with the Jordanian government on preparations for the camp, which can house 1,000 family-size tents, according to the agency’s deputy chief in Amman, Arafat Jamal.
Jamal said officials prefer to have refugees stay in urban housing, but the camp may be necessary if the number of refugees increases.
“A camp means tents, a very visible presence of refugees in the country and also not a particularly dignified way of dealing with the situation,” he said.
He said a United Nations warehouse outside of the Jordanian capital, Amman, is already stocked with tents, blankets, and mattresses.
Khaled Ghanem of the Islamic Charity Center Society, another organization aiding Syrian refugees, said Jordanian border town are already filling up with refugees.
Jordan is already home to hundreds of thousands of refugees, and any new influx is sure to tax the resource-poor country’s basic infrastructure. At the height of the crisis in neighboring Iraq, Jordan hosted an estimated 1.5 million Iraqis. The U.N. estimates that number is now about half, although many Iraqis come and go depending on the level of violence at home.
Waves of Palestinian refugees also flooded into the country following successive wars with Israel.
The U.N.’s refugee agency said it has registered 6,375 Syrians in Lebanon but said the actual figure there is likely higher as not all refugees register with the agency.
Turkish officials said nearly 10,000 Syrian refugees are living in tent camps along the country’s border with Syria.