Syria crisis: Five years in a refugee camp

Aysha Mousa in front of a row of shelters in Azraq refugee camp, Jordan

“What pains me the most is my youngest son. He was born here and knows nothing outside of this camp.”

Aysha Mousa and her family arrived in Azraq – a purpose-built refugee camp in the Jordanian desert – in May 2014, just three days after the camp officially opened. They have been there ever since.

We come from Daraa [in Syria], and although it’s not that far from Jordan, it took us almost a month to get through. The roads were dangerous, and we had to wait for clashes to subside to move from one area to the next, which wasn’t easy as I was pregnant and carrying three kids.

On the night of their arrival, the family were assigned a shelter – a prefabricated cabin – and slept on very thin mattresses:

I remember the first day that we entered the camp – it was a disaster. We didn’t expect the floor of our shelter to be full of gravel and stones. We owned nothing and were given very little.

For the past five years, Aysha and her sons have not left the camp once, neither to visit a relative nor to have a trip somewhere nearby. They haven’t even relocated their shelter, and have lived in it from the day it was assigned to them.

Aysha and her youngest son at Azraq camp
Aysha and her yougest son, now aged 4

Her youngest son was born in Azraq camp only four months after their arrival. He is now four years old and has known no other life.

Aysha often shows him pictures of his relatives whom he has never met, some of whom have moved out of Syria and others who have passed away.

I try to explain to him sometimes what life looked like back in Syria, what our houses looked like, what the lush, green nature looked like, and how there are many things that he has not seen yet. My son has never seen most of the stuff that a four-year-old has seen. He once saw a stray cat in the camp and was terrified of it.

I want to show him the houses, the spring, and the different animals. I’m sure he would be very happy to see flowers and play in the grass.

Although Aysha has seen the camp develop and grow over the past five years, she feels that there is still a lot to be done.

There weren’t so many people at the camp when we first arrived. I used to go to the [WFP market] to buy a few things, and wouldn’t know where my shelter was on the way back. It all looked the same to me but, with time, I started to become familiar with everything, and after they expanded our shelters and built us kitchens, things started to get better. Then we got electricity and our lives changed.

Aysha and her family at Azraq camp
Aysha and her family inside their home at Azraq camp

Aysha has seen others at the camp come and go – her previous neighbours have been resettled to Canada and her husband hopes that they will be given a similar opportunity. 

I want to go back to Syria, but my husband does not want to. He wants us to have a better life elsewhere, and get better healthcare.

Life at the camp has become better over the years, but Aysha aspires to move into her own house and be able to buy new clothes for her sons and herself:

I wish we had more job opportunities so I could buy my sons and myself new clothes. All our clothes are given to us by neighbors and we haven’t bought a single new item of clothing since our arrival.

I just want to live with dignity. I have a responsibility towards my children and I want them to have the best in life.

portrait of CARE staff member Suad Al Anati

Suad Al Anati (above) is a CARE Case Manager at Azraq Camp.

She says: “Over the past few years, I have seen the camp develop and change in many ways. Services have improved and the infrastructure has developed; even the landscape has changed. You can now see electrical towers, the shelters have cement floors above the once bare earth, people have customised their shelters to stand out amongst the vastness of white boxes, and much more.”

These developments make me both happy and sad. Of course, I want the refugees to have better lives, but improvements to the camp also mean that it is developing into a small city. In turn, this makes their stay seem more permanent, while they are still away from their homes and the kind of life they once lived.

Scene with children and shelters at Azraq refugee camp
Azraq refugee camp "is developing into a small city" says CARE's Suad Al Anati

“I have felt a strong connection to all the refugees at Azraq since day one. My mother’s relatives all lived in Syria and my last visit was just before the war started. I feel personally responsible to step up and help the camp residents because of how hospitable they were during my numerous visits to Syria. I took a personal vow to help as many people as possible to the best of my ability.”

I have been wishing for peace and their safe return since 2011, and I will continue to do so. I will work to help them until my wish comes true.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.