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Even after war ends, who will care for Syria’s 2 million refugees?

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 4 2013 9:50 a.m. MDT

Syrian refugees gather at the Turkish Cilvegozu gate border, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the West against taking one-sided action in Syria but also said Russia Syrian refugees gather at the Turkish Cilvegozu gate border, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the West against taking one-sided action in Syria but also said Russia "doesn't exclude" supporting a U.N. resolution on punitive military strikes if it is proved that Damascus used poison gas on its own people. (Gregorio Borgia, Associated Press)

As Congress mulls over whether to green-light U.S. military intervention in Syria’s civil war, a growing number of media outlets are shining a light on the plight of the displaced Syrians who have fled their homes for fear of their lives.

“The stream of refugees continues to flow across Syria's borders,” a Deseret News staff editorial reported Wednesday. “U.S. allies such as Turkey and Iraq are being impacted by this stream, which the United Nations now says equals 2 million Syrians living outside their own country.”

A front-page article in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal profiled life at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, where 130,000 Syrians have taken up residence.

“Zaatari now ranks as Jordan's fourth-largest city, the United Nations says, and as the second-largest refugee camp in the world,” Nour Malas wrote for the Journal. “ … At least 30,000 kiosks form a bustling mini-economy run (by) Syrian refugees. Between butchers and grocers, there are signs that residents don't see themselves leaving anytime soon: a ladies' salon, a costume store, a wedding-gown shop. …

A refugee camp is seen in the Syrian territory near the Turkish border town of Cilvegozu, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013. The civil war in Syria has forced over 2 million people out of the country and over 4 million others are displaced within its borders, making Syrians the nation with the largest number of people torn from their homes, U.N. officials said Tuesday. (Gregorio Borgia, Associated Press) A refugee camp is seen in the Syrian territory near the Turkish border town of Cilvegozu, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013. The civil war in Syria has forced over 2 million people out of the country and over 4 million others are displaced within its borders, making Syrians the nation with the largest number of people torn from their homes, U.N. officials said Tuesday. (Gregorio Borgia, Associated Press)

“It is a scene playing out across the Middle East. In Lebanon and Iraq, Turkey and Egypt, Syria's refugee exodus has stretched resources, sparked political and sectarian tensions, and changed economies and demographics.”

On Tuesday, the Christian Science Monitor also produced a feature-length piece about the challenges of life in Zaatari.

The Monitor’s Christa Case Bryant wrote, “Jeff Silverman of (international aid group) Oxfam has a long history of working in refugee camps, from South Sudan to Darfur to Liberia. But he says Zaatari is the most challenging camp he’s ever worked in — and many of his colleagues agree.

“It’s a unique mix of cultural and logistical challenges, with an assertive population that is used to a much higher standard of living than your average refugee. ‘There’s no communal sense like you see in Africa,’ says Mr. Silverman. ‘Here it’s just everyone for themselves.’ ”

Syrian refugees pass through the Turkish Cilvegozu gate border, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013. U.N. chemical weapons experts have left Syria and crossed into neighboring Lebanon. The team on Friday carried out a fourth and final day of inspection as they sought to determine precisely what happened in the Aug. 21 alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus. The team took samples from victims for examination in laboratories in Europe. (Gregorio Borgia, Associated Press) Syrian refugees pass through the Turkish Cilvegozu gate border, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013. U.N. chemical weapons experts have left Syria and crossed into neighboring Lebanon. The team on Friday carried out a fourth and final day of inspection as they sought to determine precisely what happened in the Aug. 21 alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus. The team took samples from victims for examination in laboratories in Europe. (Gregorio Borgia, Associated Press)

As illustrative as those two articles are, the defining piece about Zaatari likely remains “City of the Lost” — the exquisite article David Remnick filed last week for the New Yorker.

“In Zaatari, the dispossession is absolute,” Remnick reported. “Everyone has lost his country, his home, his equilibrium. Most have lost a family member or a close friend to the war. What is left is a kind of theatrical pride, the necessary performance of will. ‘This place is a graveyard for camels,’ a refugee in his thirties named Ahmed Bakar told me one morning. ‘Camels can’t even live here. But Syrians can.’ ”

Email: jaskar@desnews.com

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