WMC Women Under Siege

As violence soars, a photographic look inside the Zaatari camp in Jordan

Recently, the Obama administration announced a decision to allow 2,000 Syrian refugees to settle permanently in the United States. The refugees would include the most vulnerable—women and children who had been “exposed to everything from torture to gender-based violence to serious medical conditions,” Foreign Policy reported.

This is a welcome move. Thousands of Syrians have already fled the conflict to seek refuge in other countries, including Iraq and Turkey. As many as 150,000 Syrians have already sought refuge in the Zaatari camp in Jordan. In its 13 months of existence, the camp has grown to become the fourth largest city in Jordan and the second largest refugee camp in the world.

The UN has called the Syrian refugee crisis the worst since the crisis stemming from the Rwandan genocide two decades ago. Nearly 60 percent of the Syrian refugees living in the Zaatari camp are children, while between 13 and 15 babies are born there every day, the UNFPA has reported. In April, the UNHCR estimated the camp to be receiving an average of 1,500 new arrivals a day.

Lauren Wolfe, director of WMC’s Women Under Siege, visited the camp in May and captured photographs of everyday life. Her images show that for the Syrians living together in this vast camp, life goes on as usual—families cook dinner, children play in the streets, vendors sell their wares at makeshift shops. On display is everything from desolate communal kitchens in concrete bunkers to the children selling everything from cotton candy to lollipops for 10 hours a day. What you can’t necessarily see is the searing heat, the smell of the toilets, and the uncertainty of thousands of people not knowing when their time in limbo will end.

What you also cannot tell from these photographs is that rape, violence, and crime within the camp is prevalent. Aid workers have reported a soaring number of rape and sexualized violence cases against the women and children at Zaatari. Camp director Killian Kleinschmidt, of the UNHCR, told the Canadian paper The National Post that each new refugee brings “another tale of ‘rape, murder,’ and death.” The camp’s children, he said, draw “horrible pictures.”

A UN worker told Wolfe while she was at Zaatari that the levels of domestic violence were as bad as anything she’d witnessed while working with internally displaced people in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country torn by war and misogyny for 16 years already.

Below, a look at life inside the Zaataari refugee camp. For more about the wedding you’ll see in the slideshow, click over to this story in The Nation.

More articles by Category: International, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: War, Sexualized violence



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