Our impressions of Al Azraq refugee camp in Jordan

Here are our individual impressions of what has been a very impacting, very emotional experience for all.

Martin Hiddink
After a long drive through the desert, in the middle of nowhere in a landscape that almost looked from another hostile planet—nothing but an infinite extension of small black rocks—suddenly on the horizon a white field appeared, which turned out to be the white containers of the camp. My first impression was that I was looking at a huge cemetery, like the one in Harlington USA… I know this sounds kind of exaggerated, but it was the first association my brain made.

Camp Zarq - by Martin Hiddink
Camp Azarq – by Martin Hiddink

Once we arrived at the camp and got out of our cars, we felt and heard a strong wind whistling continuously, which even increased this sensation of alienation I had started to feel. I really felt in awe and in disbelief, and I expected to see the worst.

But then we entered, and after been shown around the camp’s installations in the car, we got off at the community centre where we got invited to play a game of soccer against a team of camp residents. Suddenly, the atmosphere was filled with a buzz of children’s laughs and shouts, and we found ourselves surrounded by dry, cracked but brightly smiling faces. All that sensation of being near to an apocalypse disappeared and we started playing, running, shouting and cheering and ended up sharing wonderful moments of joy and wordless comprehension of each other: fellow humans enjoying the moment.

Sport team - by Monica Righeschi
Sport team – by Monica Righeschi

Almost light-hearted, we continued our visit until the night fell, and then we visited the part of the camp already fitted with the solar street lights that tore the night apart and allowed the people to see, walk around and feel safe. We met people that in these incredible circumstances had the same effect as the solar light: a light of hope and humanity. One image got impressed in my mind while we were leaving: a woman lighting up the dark night with a bright lantern in her hand, opening the door of the white container that was now her home and letting in her children with a tender smile…. Hope

Aazraq-8Riad Behluli
This third camp was a bit better, because the houses were newer than in the other camps. There were solar panel and sports fields. One negative thing compared with the camp in Azraq was the absence of a market, restaurants and other places for a better social life.

There were a lot of positive things, for example the people and the families made me feel happy, because they didn’t lose hope in their lives.
I can understand a bit what they felt, because for a short period I lived a similar situation: during the war in Kosovo I had to, with my family, leave my home because of the dangerous situation… but, luckily, after three days we could go back to our home without bad consequences… unlike the situations of the refugees I can see here in Jordan.
This experience made me realise how lucky we are.

Monica Righeschi
Today we went to visit the Azraq camp.
It’s always so exciting to see these wonderful children so happy to see us!
Today, however, I was a little sad to see that a whole family must live in a small container and…

– By Monica Righeschi

…looking at them, they always seem happy and cheerful, but probably they do this to hide the sadness from their children.

Speaking with a person who works within the field, I asked exactly what I knew about the parents of these children, and sadly was told that they are people who do not trust more than anyone and they know that they will go away so soon from the field.

- By Monica Righeschi
– By Monica Righeschi

I went away a bit sad tonight, but with the smile of children at heart!

Dalila Lauro
It’s our last day, our last visit to Al Azraq camp today, which presents itself in a different way compared to Zaatari. Although it is more spacious, cleaner, tidier and newer, Zaatari appeared almost more alive. I don’t know why, probably compared to Azraq where everything appeared a bit cold. Despite this, the refugees I met had the same energy and will to live. Today we even played football! And it was fun. Both Stepanie and I participated, and I think that the fact of having female players can be an excellent message since the recreation field was occupied solely by male refugees.

It was a wonderful day and interesting, but when night fell it became magic: in the middle of nowhere, small lanterns illuminated the field and seemed almost like stars from afar. We visited the camp a bit before walking outside, and I realised that I couldn’t see my feet! And I was really scared because I knew that three poisonous snakes and scorpions had been sighted in that area. If there hadn’t been a lamppost I wouldn’t even have gone out of the car, no one likes the idea of taking a walk in the dark. And that is the importance of lighting in the fields; people can go out with peace of mind, see each other and socialise in the evening.

Azraq at night
Azraq at night

These three days in Jordan were wonderful and terrible at the same time. I lived through the stories and the looks of the people I met during the mission, despair and hope at the same time, and this has made me feel very bad because—although I can’t blame myself for what happened—I realised that all those things that could be my problems or trouble at home were nothing compared to what they’re going through. And when I passed through the streets of refugee camps and saw young boys and girls, I couldn’t help but imagine myself in their place, because yes, I could be in their place if I were born in Syria, and then what would change in me? What are my priorities? What were my dreams? What would I have never had?

Everything that I lived in these three days is really very difficult to describe, because I think there will never be more suitable words to do so. Despite this, the importance that there is in being able to transmit my experience once back in Switzerland is crucial, because if my words can encourage my colleagues to do more to help UNHCR and refugees, I will do everything in order to sensitise them more on the issue. Why is it important, why it is needed and why we can make a difference.

    Martin Hiddink