Lighting Azraq

During our car ride to Azraq, we saw the landscape changing slowly. There was less and less civilization and more sand hills with stones. We were in the middle of the hot desert when all of a sudden the Azraq camp appeared.

The Azraq camp in the middle of nowhere. Picture by Baptiste Collard.
The Azraq camp in the middle of nowhere. Picture by Baptiste Collard.

The Azraq camp is completely different from Za’atari. It lies in an isolated and desolated part of the desert of Jordan. From far away it looks like a prison or boot camp, with all these small white shelters behind barbed fences.

Currently the camp is set up in four villages with in total 35,000 refugees. Half of them arrived during the last three months. It is hot and dusty and you can see spiders and scorpions all around.

It is a tough place to live, but the people of UNHCR are doing their best to make the living conditions as good as possible.

There is one water supply for each unit of 12 shelters. There are also playgrounds, a big supermarket and two market squares where refugees can open their own little shop. But there is nearly no electricity.

If you consider that these people were used to a living standard comparable with ours, can you imagine what it must be like? Would you make it through the day? Or through the night, knowing that is it completely dark in the desert?

Especially on this matter, the IKEA Foundation has enabled a great improvement. In two out of four villages, solar street lanterns have been placed. And all refugees get solar lamps to use in their shelter upon arrival. All funded by the IKEA Foundation, with the money raised from the Brighter Lives For Refugees campaign. So that is why we sold all those LED lamps!! It became suddenly very clear to me.

The IKEA Foundation also donated US$6 million for building a solar power plant for the Azraq camp. This should be finished by October and bring light to many more streets and shelters. It’s very nice to see the Syrian refugees are involved in this project and will help with the technical installation. All parties involved keep thanking us for this support. It is a pilot project and I hope it can be a precedent for all other camps in the world.

Pearce Cullinane, energy engineer, shows us where the solar power plant will be installed. Picture by Ann Luyckx.
Pearce Cullinane, energy engineer, shows us where the solar power plant will be installed. Picture by Ann Luyckx.
Some preparation work is already done: this is how the shelters will get connected to the electricity lanterns. Picture by Baptiste Collard.
Some preparation work is already done: this is how the shelters will get connected to the electricity lanterns. Picture by Baptiste Collard.

Refugees living in the camp for a longer time explained us how hard life is without electricity. They would like to have a fridge, because now they need to throw away leftovers from meals. They long for a fan in the hot summers and a heater during the cold winters. Lights will enable them to go to the bathroom safely during the nights. And they would love to be able to recharge their mobile phone in their shelter, sit together with friends and neighbours during the evenings and eventually watch television.

The family from our home visit surrounded by children from the neighbourhood. Picture by Ann Luyckx.
The family from our home visit surrounded by children from the neighbourhood. Picture by Ann Luyckx.

I hope in a few months they will have more light in their lives. In the meanwhile they keep their heads high under a starry night.