Life in a Refugee Camp

The Zaatari refugee camp is home to tens of thousands of Syrians who have fled from the Syrian war. Today it is the fourth largest city in Jordan. (Tom White/PA/Tom White/PA)

People who live in refugee camps can spend years waiting until they get a permit to establish themselves in a new country

Carla Vallet

Hundreds of millions of people are forced to move to Asia, Africa, America, or Europe, weary but determined to find a new home. They leave everything behind to search for better living conditions, but yet they don’t know where they will be able to settle down or how they will survive.

In theory, the migration and settling in a refugee camp is a temporary situation. However, the procedures for requesting asylum or international protection can be extended for years.

Consequently, refugee camps have become home to thousands of people of all ages, whose efforts are put towards the quest for a normal life. While children and teenagers continue their studies in school tents run by NGOs, adults collaborate with cooperators or create small businesses as a foundation to build on.

As indicated in the studies of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNKCR), a citizen forced into exile can spend an average of 17 years in a refugee camp before returning to their home country or obtain permission to reside elsewhere.


Arriving in A Refugee Camp

Besides the struggle and starvation from long travels, refugees must complete various administrative procedures upon arrival. Without the required documents, they wouldn’t be able to stay.

Upon arrival and documentation, basic products are provided: blankets, soap, water, etc. Families settle in tents or small sheds where they have to settle in. During this time, they decorate it as if it were their own home.

Organizations that run these camps have had to negotiate with authorities of the host countries. Governments typically offer lands that are in poor condition as these are the only spaces available.

Food distribution brings heavy anxiety to those residing. Thousands of kilos of food are distributed every day, but there is not always enough food supplies for everyone; sometimes refugees wait in seemingly endless lines for hours.

The same applies for health services. If they are fortunate enough, refugees will have access to a health center open for every 2,000 people, and very few doctors are available. Hygienic measures are also scarce: one toilet for every twenty people.

In larger camps, that reach the size of a small city, refugees make daily visits to the NGO offices and international institutions to follow up on asylum requests. If the visa they have waited so much for arrives, they will move to a developed country and finally forget the hell they have just been through.

Feature developed in collaboration with the Faculty of Communication and International Relations Blanquerna-URL

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