ZAATARI, Jordan — In part one of this two part series, basic differences between refugee camps in Thailand and Jordan were enumerated to provide insight into how the camps are run.
In part two, the similarities between the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan and the Mae La Oon, Tham Hin and Mae Ra La Luang refugee camps in Thailand will be expounded upon – showing commonalities and hopefully providing a fuller picture of what refugee camps are like around the world.
Stephanie Sobek, a Harvard M.A. in Middle Eastern studies and Thomas R. Pickering Fellow, shared her experiences from both camps in Thailand and Jordan. She expressed sincere amazement at the generosity of those who have and are dealing with so much.
“I was so welcomed and well received in both camps. The people are so kind and giving although they have so little,” Sobek stated.
While refugees in both countries face incredible challenges, conflict, and violence, they continue to show incredible resilience and hope for a better future.
Similarities: Refugee Camps in Thailand and Jordan
1. Refugees Move (although to different degrees)
Because refugees are not allowed to work legally in both Jordan and Thailand, they are often left dependent on aid organizations. Despite this, many refugees leave the camps to explore illegal employment opportunities in surrounding villages.
In the Zaatari camp for example, movement is very frequent. Bus loads of people come in and out daily, most leaving to go across the border to check on their homes and businesses.
For the refugees in Thailand, movement is much more limited. While many do leave to cross the border and check their homes, the trek is longer, much more arduous and fraught with the risk of landmines.
2. Camp set-up is the same across countries
Camp set-up is fairly uniform across different countries because it is based on international standards. In addition, everyday operations such as food distribution happen in much the same way. In Jordan and Thailand, refugees at camps receive regular dry food distributions. In both places, it is not unusual for refugees to pursue any work they can find in order to supplement their diets in anyway they can.
In the Zaatari Camp, there is more of a food selection due to a lively main shopping street with many food stalls and shops. The main street running through the camp has been named the “Shams Elycee,” a play on the famous French shopping street, “Champs-Élysées.”
3. Health concerns are a major issue
It is unsurprising that health is a major concern for refugees. Fleeing conflict often creates a traumatic experience that affects both the mental and physical health of refugees. Restlessness, depression and other social disorders result from both the conflict from which refugees are fleeing and the violence in the camps. This problem is difficult for NGOs operating in the camps to address because they are simultaneously trying to work on getting food or build latrines from thousands of people.
Solutions vary from camp to camp based on the needs of the population. In the Zaatari camp, playgrounds have been created for children so they have safe place to let out their energy. In Thailand, yoga classes are held to help people find a way to relieve stress. In both instances, these types of activities provide a way to mitigate some of the restlessness and create safe places for refugees to spend time.
4. People are People are People
Understandably, the majority of refugees in both Thailand and Jordan just want to live in peace and return to their homes. And while they would prefer to not be in a camp, they are grateful for a safe place to stay.
Extended families in both camps tend to stick together and help one another out. If and when they get separated in the resettlement process, aunts and uncles or close neighbors generally will adopt the children left behind. While there are certainly problems with child marriages, sexual assault, violence, trafficking, etc., there are more instances of kindness between neighbors.
And no matter where in the world you go, Sobek says, football is popular. “Kids like football [soccer]EVERYWHERE.”
– Andrea Blinkhorn