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Plight of Refugees in Za'atari Camp in Jordan Obscured Amid UN's Syria Superbowl

By Matthew Russell Lee

  UNITED NATIONS, August 30 -- Syria's neighbors were given center stage in the UN Security Council on Thursday, to talk up what they do for refugees.

  Inner City Press asked the UN's top official for refugees, UNHRC's Antonio Gutteres, about the Za'atari camp in Jordan, and about a protest of UNHCR in Annan. (At this last, new Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson raised his eyebrows, seeming surprised that the UN would be protested.) Video here, from Minute 2:50.

  Gutteres said Jordan decided to establish that camp in "a very difficult situation from the point of view of the environmental conditions." You might say: the tents are blown down by sandy winds and there are scorpions. Residents protested (or rioted) and now up to 150 of them face refoulement, in UNHCR-speak, to Syria.

  Inner City Press asked Gutteres about this; he replied with a hope that it was a one time incident, "quickly solved."

    But what about these 150 people?

  Inner City Press asked Syrian Permanent Representative Bashar Ja'afari about the camp. His answer was that government should let people return, that they only left because the rebels used them as human shields. He riffed about countries with the "dirty habit" of making money off other people's suffering, calling it a "stock market."

  French foreign minister Laurent Fabius bragged in his statement in the Council about providing doctors in Za'atari, without addressing if the camp is in a livable location much less those about to be sent back to Syria. He took only two questions afterward, none on this.

  Unlike the Permanent Representatives not only of Syria but also Russia, and the ministers of Lebanon and France (though only for two questions), Jordan's Nasser Judeh did not come to take any questions at the stakeout. But he is active on Twitter, where he has his supporters; his Permanent Representative at the UN is omnipresent.

 So we hope to have more on these 150 (and more) people.

From the UN's August 30, 2012 transcript:

Inner City Press: Mr. Guterres, I want to ask you about a specific UNHCR issue where there is this camp in Jordan, the Zatari camp, where some people were protesting, or rioting against the conditions. Now Jordan has said it is going to return some people to Syria, and I heard that there was a protest in Amman at your office, saying maybe they shouldn’t be in the middle of the desert with winds and scorpions. What is your position on one, the placement of that camp, and what should happen with the people who were protesting the conditions?

Mr. Guterres: First of all, the overwhelming majority of the Syrians in Jordan – and we are talking now about 180,000 people - are within the community, received by families.

At a certain moment, for reasons related to their impact on the economy, the society, the Jordanian Government – and Jordan is a sovereign country – has decided that a camp should be opened. And, obviously, that was done. The camp is in a very difficult situation, from the point of view of the environmental conditions. All agencies are doing their best, in order to provide assistance, and a lot of efforts are being made now in order to improve the camp. And I hope that these incidents will just be an incident in the context of something that will be quickly solved.

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