John Kerry visits Syrian refugees camp in Jordan

Last Updated: Thursday, July 18, 2013 - 17:39

Zaatari Refugee Camp (Jordan): US Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday visited the sprawling Zaatari camp home to tens of thousands of Syrian refugees to see at first-hand the tragedy of the conflict.
Kerry first overflew the vast camp by helicopter, surveying hundreds of tents and trailers lined up on the desert sand about 20 kilometres from the Syrian border.

Kerry said his visit had "put a real human face" on the situation, describing his conversations with refugees and officials at the camp as "searing and unforgettable".

He met with half dozen refugees, two men and four women, for 40 minutes.
They expressed anger and repeatedly asked Kerry to establish buffer and no-fly zones in Syria.

"Where is the international community? What are you waiting for? We hope that you will not go back to the United States before you find a solution to the crisis. At least impose a no-fly zone or an embargo," said a refugee woman who did not give her name.

A grim-faced Kerry replied: "A lot of different options are under consideration. I wish it was very simple. As you know, we`ve been fighting two wars for 12 years.

"We are trying to help in various ways, including helping Syrian opposition fighters have weapons. We are doing new things. There is consideration of buffer zones and other things but it is not as simple as it sounds."

The same woman picked up a pen, waved it in the air and tapped it on the table as she spoke.

"Mr. Secretary if the situation remains unchanged until the end of Ramadan this camp will become empty. We will return to Syria and we will fight with knives. You as the US government look to Israel with respect. Cannot you do the same with the children of Syria?" she asked.

The refugees also urged the international community to help put a halt to the flow of weapons from Iran and influx of Lebanese Hezbollah fighters into Syria.

From the air, the camp, which costs USD 1 million a day to run, clearly dwarfed the neighbouring villages.

Youths could be seen playing football on makeshift pitches while children were swinging on swings in a nearby playground.

There are no trees or bushes to provide shade from the baking Jordanian sun in an area which before last year was just empty desert scrubland.

"The conflict has reached a level of brutality that is indescribable," UNHCR camp manager Kilian Kleinschmidt told reporters accompanying Kerry.

"The stories are horrible," he said, putting the number of refugees at the seven-square-kilometre camp at 115, 000 -- 70 per cent of them are children and women.


First Published: Thursday, July 18, 2013 - 17:39

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