Syrian refugee camps swell as frustrations rise

By Dale Gavlak

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 8 2012 2:31 p.m. MDT

In Kilis, another Turkish border town, authorities responded to a protest about camp conditions by deporting some refugees to a desert camp near Urfa, where living conditions are more austere, refugees said.

"Turkish people are hospitable and generous. Still, our lives in the camps are difficult," said a woman in Yayladagi, who identified herself as Um Ahmad. "The most important thing for me is to return to my country, even if I am going to be eating sand there."

In Jordan, officials have been taking precautions to try to protect refugees amid suspicions that Assad's regime is trying to extend its crackdown into Jordan. Both Jordanian officials and the Syrian refugees believe Syrian agents are operating in the kingdom on a campaign to hunt down activists and other opponents, and intimidate those who have fled.

Refugees who once stayed in an apartment complex used as an initial processing center and owned by a Jordanian businessman reported two attempts earlier this year to poison their water supply.

The complex had to be abandoned after security officials arrested a man in June for trying to plant a bomb under the car of the Jordanian owner, Nidal Bashabsheh, who had been actively helping Syrian refugees.

Late last month, a 6-year-old Syrian boy was shot and killed by the Syrian military as he made the treacherous border crossing with his family.

At Jordan's Zataari camp, winds carrying orange desert sand whip through the tents, covering everything and everyone. Many refugees say they can neither breathe easily nor stay clean and healthy.

Um Nadia, a 26-year-old pregnant mother of two toddlers, suffers from asthma and worries for her health and that of her family. "Listen to my voice. I'm suffering. I'm constantly coughing," she said.

"I can't stand it anymore and that's only after three days here. I'm very sick from the weather and this dust," said the slender woman, her voice raspy, adding that she had to be fed intravenously in the camp's medical clinic.

"But what about my young children?" she asked. "They will surely contract bronchitis or some other sort of disease themselves."

Jordanian authorities refused to respond to allegations of poor conditions in the camps. The U.N. refugee agency's representative in Jordan, Andrew Harper, acknowledged conditions in the tent cities were not ideal, but promised improvements to help ease the challenging conditions.

"It's a very tough, terrible place to be, but every day we'll make it better," he said. "We just need everyone to remain calm and to be sure that we keep moving forward in the right way."

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Gavlak reported from Zataari, Jordan.

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