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Syrian refugees in Jordan struggle to survive current crisis

05 Mar 2013

A snapshot of Zaatari campIn my role as HelpAge's Emergencies Health and Nutrition Advisor, I recently travelled to Jordan.

My aim was to collect information on the humanitarian situation and response to the Syrian refugee crisis by meeting relevant stakeholders including UN agencies and NGOs. 

I was also tasked with collecting information on the situation and needs of Syrian older people and whether they are being addressed in the current humanitarian response. In particular, I sought to examine the health and nutrition needs and response, but also more general protection and access to humanitarian assistance.

Poor security situation in camps

As we have all heard and seen on the news, the humanitarian situation in the region is catastrophic. Officially, there are around 180,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, a large part of the 230,000 who have been pre-registered across several countries in the region. Zaatari camp right in the north of Jordan, where I went has around 100,000 refugees, although it was built for only 20,000.

The situation in Zaatari is very bad, with poor security and agencies not being able to cope with the influx of refugees.

The food available in the camp is passable but agencies are still struggling to provide adequate types of food for people. At the moment, the World Food Programme (WFP) is providing a general ration to people consisting of bread, rice, oil, among other things with UNHCR providing a complementary ration for everybody, consisting of canned food, cheese, hummus and tuna.

Soon WFP will be distributing food vouchers, so that people can buy the food they want at the camp market: you can find everything there, from chicken, bread, cakes to vegetables and fruits.

Older people make up 2% of the camp population, 930 are men and 1,540 women. This percentage is now creeping up to 3% with the new arrivals.

When it comes to health services, all people 60 and above are considered vulnerable and there is a system of identification and referral. They account for around 15% of the sick people in the health facilities.

Life is extremely difficult

In the camp, I met Souhad who is 72 and used to live in a farming village near Daara. She is suffering from severe arthritis in both her knees, which makes it difficult for her to walk. She is also treated for several chronic diseases, including diabetes, high blood pressure, etc...

She said: "Life became very difficult in the last few weeks, the Government army started to target our village. I was not able to reach the shelter so I stayed at home and witnessed the death and destruction."

As more people left the village, she decided to leave as well. At the same time, her grand-niece, Monal, who is 23 decided to leave too. They hired seats in a car going to the border but were stopped 1.5 km from Jordan and had to walk across the border in the dark. For Souhad, it was an ordeal to walk that distance with her bad knees. At the Jordanian border, they were transported to Zaatari by an ambulance, because of Souhad's condition.

Now Monal and Souhad are living in a tent which is almost empty, without electricity or heat. They have received a few blankets and two mattresses, but Souhad says that she feels cold. The previous week, the tent was flooded because of the heavy rains, and they had to move and stay with neighbours. Now, the tent is dry and they have come back.

They received a food package, but Monal found it difficult to carry it on her own. The food ration is not adapted to Souhad's diabetes, as it does not include any vegetables.

Important that older people are not forgotten

From what I witnessed it is important that older people's needs are not forgotten at this stage. There is a huge need to advocate for specific community services for older and vulnerable people in many areas. These include protection, such as registration in the camp, distributions, access to services, as well as health and shelter.

When it comes to health, we need to identify community health workers, volunteers or home-based carers and train them for identify the most vulnerable. At the moment, those who cannot reach clinics or hospitals are not being treated, which is extremely worrying.

HelpAge International is currently collaborating with Handicap International on its response to the Syrian refugee crisis in Jordan. We are using our joint expertise to help identify the needs of the most vulnerable groups affected by the conflict in Syria, including older people and people with disabilities, to ensure their access to essential relief services, and to look at the best ways of providing further assistance to them.

Read more about our work to support older people in emergencies.

Your comments

patricia pinto



Hi Patricia, thanks for your comment and your willingness to help. We don't offer this kind of experience, unfortunately. I hope you find an organisation that can help you. Sarah (from HelpAge)


the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, in Lampedusa to meet the authorities but also to visit the shetler on the occasion of World Refugee Day. In times of conflict for us is particularly important for countries to maintain open borders so that they welcome thousands of refugees fleeing. Added the Commissioner. The High Commissioner, who will meet in Rome tomorrow, the head of state, said he was happy but also satisfied that both Egypt and Tunisia, have left open their borders. Even Italy is trying to receive refugees. And remember that some of the migrants fleeing the country for economic reasons, but most of them in need of protection, which is why it is important for us to be welcomed. 18 thousand refugees. The 18 000 refugees fled from Libya arrived in Italy are a very small number in comparison to Europe, but compared to Lampedusa is a huge number he continued. Guterres has just returned yesterday from an official visit to Tunisia. Thousands of refugees, more than 500 000 have fled to Tunisia-Libya-Guterres said of these only 18 000 have arrived in Italy through the Sicilian coast. That's why I take my appreciation for the commendable work done by the Coast Guard and the Guardia di Finanza in recent months have pushed for the recovery of thousands of refugees into the sea. A work done with efficiency and generosity in a situation that can be dramatic because we must remember that many people have drowned during the crossing. And he wanted to express once again its solidarity and appreciation for the people of Lampedusa. I have certainly been the most difficult times between February and March-said-and has been made to improve reception conditions and to allow transfers in Italy for refugees but we are working together to ensure that we can further improve.

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Pascale Fritsch
Country: London
Job title: Emergency Health Advisor

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.