Syrian refugees pushed to the brink as Za’atari refugee camp turns 10

Ten years since the first tents were pitched in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan’s, almost 82,000 Syrian refugees are still living there, facing increasing precarity as shrinking incomes, rising prices and spiralling debt drive them further into poverty.

Over the past decade, caravans have replaced tents and Za’atari has become the biggest Syrian refugee camp in the world with more than half of the population children.

“Syrian refugees in Jordan are facing a burgeoning humanitarian crisis. Global shocks have compounded the vulnerabilities of refugees, whose savings are long depleted after a protracted exile; 93% of Syrian refugee households are now in debt,” said Hannah Patchett, policy and media manager for Oxfam in Jordan.

A series of external crises have created economic turmoil in Jordan, from the economic fallout of the Syrian conflict to the COVID-19 pandemic, and most recently the Ukraine crisis, pushing Syrian refugees to the brink.

In Za’atari refugee camp, around a third of refugees have reduced the number of meals they eat and more than two-thirds have had to buy food on credit, according to the UN. Food prices have soared: the cost of food increased by 22% in shops in Za’atari during just four months in 2022.

“Global shocks have compounded the vulnerabilities of refugees, whose savings are long depleted after a protracted exile; 93% of Syrian refugee households are now in debt,” Hannah Patchett, policy and media manager Oxfam in Jordan While each refugee receives JD 23 ($32) in monthly food vouchers from the World Food Programme, this doesn’t meet basic needs. “The price of five litres of cooking oil has risen from JD 7 to JD 16. We have nothing left after buying rice and sugar,” said Mahmoud, a father in Za’atari refugee camp.

Oxfam is responsible for waste management in Za’atari and provides short-term work opportunities to refugees in roles such as waste collection and recycling. Over the past two years, Oxfam has provided temporary work to more than 10,000 refugees in Za’atari camp. These opportunities are a lifeline, but they are at risk from shrinking funding.

Amid competing global crises, humanitarian funding for Syrian refugees in Jordan is in decline. As of July 2022, the Jordan Response Plan for the Syria crisis does not have 90 per cent of needed funds.

Up to 1.3 million Syrians have taken refuge in Jordan, of whom 675,000 are registered with UNHCR. With no end in sight to their displacement, Syrian refugees also need longer-term solutions, including a chance to build meaningful futures. “

Donor countries must increase funding to Jordan to help refugees and vulnerable Jordanians meet their basic needs in the short-term, and to support Jordan’s economic recovery and growth so all Jordanians and refugees can fulfil their potential,” said Patchett.

“Protection and support for refugees is a global responsibility. Beyond providing financing, high-income countries must also welcome more Syrian refugees. With the Ukraine crisis, Europe has shown its capacity to provide refuge. More must be done to include Syrian and other refugees: The right of refuge is universal; it must not be selective,” she added.

Notes to editors

•Za’atari refugee camp was established on July 29, 2012.

•The camp is divided into 12 districts and is served with 32 schools, 8 health facilities and 58 community centres.

•Za’atari has a young population: 55% are children. More than half of families in the camp have a family member with disability, while 42 per cent of families have at least one member with a chronic illness. •Each refugee living in the camp receives a JD23 (32USD) monthly WFP voucher for in-kind assistance, which is insufficient for basic needs.

•UNHCR recorded in 2021 a 7 per cent drop in employment for refugee individuals of working age in Za’atari compared to April 2020.

•There has been an 11.8 per cent increase in the number of child marriages in Syrian refugee camps in 2022 compared to 2019.

•UNHCR’s 7th regional intention survey, found that in 2022, 94 per cent of Syrian refugees living in Jordan are not planning on returning to Syria in the next year, compared to 73 per cent in 2018.

•Oxfam is responsible for all waste management in Za’atari refugee camp and runs two recycling facilities in the camp, reducing the burden on Jordanian landfills. Through cash-for-work programmes, Oxfam has provided more than 10,000 income opportunities to refugees in Za’atari during the past two years in waste collection, recycling and community engagement.

Contact information

Spokespersons are available, kindly contact:

Jassar Al-Tahat | Media and Communications manager in Jordan | +962 798649980 | Skype: Jassar Al Tahat

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Unprecedented spike in food prices puts Yemenis at risk of extreme hunger

Yemen is facing unprecedented rises in the price of food putting millions more people in danger of catastrophic hunger, Oxfam warned today.

Already exhausted by over seven years of conflict, Yemen has been hit hard by the worsening global food crises. The prices of wheat, flour, cooking oil, eggs and sugar have all increased by more than a third since March. Such price hikes haven’t been seen since the country was subject to a blockade and never for such a prolonged period.

Yemen imports 90 per cent of its food, including 42 per cent of its wheat from Ukraine. Importers have warned that stocks may run out in the coming months and that global increase in costs will challenge their ability to secure wheat imports into Yemen. Even after last week’s welcome announcement that Ukraine will be able to export grains, the effects of the major disruption in the food supply will be felt for some time to come. Any drop in global prices could well be short-lived and may not translate into a reduction in cost for ordinary Yemenis. In a country where many people depend on bread for most of their daily food to survive, this could push millions towards starvation.

Ferran Puig, Oxfam in Yemen Country Director, said: "This unprecedented rise in food prices threatens the lives of millions of people who are now in real danger of starvation.

“Families who have been pushed to the brink by seven years of conflict are being tipped over the edge as the prices of basic food rises beyond their reach.

“World leaders must act immediately to prevent catastrophic hunger and a worsening humanitarian crisis.”

A temporary extension to the Yemen-wide truce in June has bought some relief, but the situation remains volatile and this, coupled with a wider economic crisis, rising food prices and an ailing agricultural sector – due in large part to the effects of climate change – is making life even harder for the Yemeni people – nearly 80 per cent of whom are in need of humanitarian assistance while the humanitarian response remains only 27 per cent funded.

Between March and June this year, the price of basic foods increased by up to 45 per cent.

-Flour increased by 38 per cent
-Cooking oil increased by 45 per cent
-Sugar increased by 36 per cent
-Rice increased by 30 per cent
-Canned beans increased by 38 per cent
-Powder milk increased by 36 per cent
-Eggs increased by 35 per cent

The average national price of the Minimum Food Basket (MFB) has increased by 48 per cent since December 2021 and 25 per cent since the start of the year, with the increasing costs of food imports further exacerbated by exchange rate fluctuations. Yemen’s national currency, the rial, has lost its value by 28 per cent since the beginning of the year.

Petrol and diesel prices also increased by 43 per cent in the first quarter of the year. Increased cost of fuel and an unseasonable drought caused by rising temperatures globally have caused more suffering, especially for farmers. Many Yemenis depend on agriculture and livestock as a main source of income but have seen their crops damaged or delayed and livestock dying during the current drought.

As the need grows, the lack of resources to respond comes with devastating consequences. The World Food Program has been forced to reduce the amount of aid it provides, with five million recipients of food aid now set to receive less than half of their daily calorie requirement. Eight million will receive just 25 per cent.

Families told Oxfam that to survive they are having to borrow from better-off neighbors, go into debt with food sellers, and skip meals so their children can have more to eat.

Around 56 per cent of the four million internally displaced people have no source of income at all. Women and children who make up around 77 per cent of the displaced population are at greatest risk of starvation.

Arwa, a divorced mother of two who also cares for her mother and sister said: “I struggle to afford basic food due to high prices. My mother and I reduce how much we eat, and only have two meals a day, so the children have enough. Before we could have chicken or fish every other day, or meat once a week, now we barely afford to have chicken once a week and prices of vegetables increased so we can’t afford even half of what we could last year.”

Oxfam in Yemen is supporting people to earn a living, providing basic services like clean water, sanitation, cash, and establishing solar energy at household and community levels. In 2021 we were able to help more than 23,000 households.

Oxfam is calling for the international community to facilitate the import of food supplies into Yemen by reducing obstacles, financing grain imports, and providing debt relief for Yemen.

Above all, Yemen needs a permanent end to conflict so people can safely live, learn, and earn a living. We are calling on all parties to extend the truce in the coming days as part of the path towards a sustainable peace.


Notes to editors:

Spokes people available for interview on request.

Source for per cent of grain imports: Yemen humanitarian response plan, April 2022:

WFP statement, July 4 2022:

WFP beneficiaries in IPC phase four and five will now receive less than 50 per cent of their daily calorie requirement. The remaining eight million will receive just 25 per cent.

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Not all refugees in the EU are being welcomed with open arms

Photo: Aideen Elliot/Oxfam

By Dr Aideen Elliot, Oxfam Ireland’s Refugee and Migration Coordinator.

We arrived at the ‘closed controlled access centre’ or closed refugee camp on Samos island after a scenic but zigzagging drive from the closest town of Vathi, 9km of mountainous, twisting road away. In the company of two Greek lawyers from Oxfam’s local partner organisation, the Greek Council for Refugees, I stood outside the gates of the camp for half an hour while the private security guard checked our documents and called the Ministry to verify the permission to enter that we had shown them.

I felt like I was at a prison camp when I saw the elevated watch towers, the double layer of barbed wire surrounding the camp, the high metal wire gates that people enter and leave through and the CCTV tracking every move and streaming it directly back to the Ministry in Athens. When the speakers crackled to life and boomed out in different languages that there would be a census head count of residents that day it only added to that impression. There was a heavy security presence with several police and private security company cars and jeeps parked around the entrance and a few large clusters of security guards standing around.

Resident asylum-seekers are only allowed to leave and enter the camp at certain hours (there is an 8pm curfew) and to enter the camp you pass through turnstiles, magnetic gates and x-rays and scan one’s fingerprints and asylum card. Security guards also do body and bag searches of residents. I was visiting the camp with Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) as part of a research project that was collecting information and resident testimonies for Oxfam and GCR’s bulletin on closed camps (that you can read here).

Photo: Aideen Elliot/Oxfam

During our time on Samos, residents and service providers told us about the closed camp’s devastating impact on the mental health of residents, how it has made it more difficult for them to access lawyers (essential for having fair access to applying for asylum), made it virtually impossible to access health care and isolated residents from the community on Samos.

Although Samos Island might seem far away from Ireland, Ireland is strongly linked to this camp and the other four being built on Greek islands because these closed camps are 100% EU funded, so Irish money has contributed to buying the barbed wire and the metal fences that close asylum seekers off from the local community.

It is also important to remember that the policies that keep asylum seekers contained to Greek islands are EU policies and so the Irish government is part of making these policy decisions through the EU Councils of Ministers.

Detained without notice or legal basis

On 17 November, a few weeks before our visit, camp management introduced a new rule that anyone who didn’t have a ‘valid asylum card’ could no longer leave the camp. This meant that around 100 of the 450 residents were given no notice that suddenly they were indefinitely detained in this camp[1].

Οn 17 December 2021, the Administrative Court of Syros[2] confirmed that the prohibition of exit from the Samos CCAC imposed by the Greek state was unlawful. However, residents in the camp reported to the Greek Council for Refugees that the ban was still in place even after the court decision.

I have suffered mentally a lot. I suffer from traumatic experiences in my country and unbearable living conditions here. My mental health has been destroyed. It’s been three years now since 2019. I cannot understand why I haven’t succeeded in committing suicide. And now I am being held prisoner here….. I just want to go outside. They don’t let me. They are keeping me here as a prisoner.

Testimony (received 12/2021) of an Afghan young man trapped in Samos since 2019, pending the examination of his subsequent asylum application:

Mental Health Impact

All of the residents I met spoke about the stress and trauma they suffer that stops them from being able to sleep at night. Residents said that being able to leave the camp and go to language classes or to a community centre helped to take their minds off their stress. The fact that the camp is so isolated and remote and the process of passing through security to leave and enter has meant that many people no longer leave the camp and this has a very negative impact on their mental health. Médecins Sans Frontières/ Doctors Without Border (MSF) reported that the majority of their mental health patients on Samos present symptoms of depression and PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) and linked the deterioration of these people’s mental and physical well-being to living in the new closed camp.

Access to lawyers and health care

Those providing legal support to asylum seekers in the camp said that they faced delays and challenges trying to meet their clients in the camp. They have to email for permission in advance of their visit and reported waiting for an unreasonably long time at the gate for their entrance to be approved and being followed by security guards inside the camp while visiting their clients.

Residents in Samos CCAC have limited access to healthcare. There is no doctor or medical staff based inside the camp, and residents must rely on the sporadic visits of a military doctor.

Photo: Aideen Elliot/Oxfam

“A new chapter in migration management” for the EU?

Refugees and asylum-seekers have for many years been housed in inhumane and undignified conditions in a number of EU countries, including Greece where they sleep in tents in extreme heat of summer and the snow and rain of winter in overcrowded camps without adequate hygiene and toilet facilities. The EU and the Greek government have praised the new ‘closed controlled access centres’ as the solution to these inhumane conditions because these closed camps have more sanitation facilities and containers instead of tents. The EU and Greece plan to open closed centres on five islands:  Leros, Kos, Lesbos, Chios and Samos. The camp on Samos that we visited was the first to open and the ‘blueprint’ for future camps.

EU officials have called these closed camps “a new chapter in migration management” but there is cause for concern about what that this “new chapter” looks like when the camps are like prisons and the Greek Minister for Migration has explicitly said that “the new closed controlled structures act as a deterrent[3]” to people fleeing to come to the EU to look for protection.

Everyone fleeing persecution or serious harm in their own country has the right to ask for international protection. Seeking asylum is a fundamental right and enshrined in both the 1951 Refugee and in Article 18 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Making conditions bad in camps as way of deterring people fleeing from seeking protection in Europe is not in line with our responsibilities. This is especially so in a context where 83% of the refugees in the world are hosted in low and middle income countries[4].

Ireland has a responsibility to advocate for change

The EU is negotiating a New Pact on Migration and Asylum at the moment that is supposed to recognise these past failings. However, the policies on the table fail to address the flaws that have led to the overcrowded and inhospitable conditions in Greece. As an EU member state, Ireland is involved in negotiating the New Pact on Migration and Asylum. The Irish Government should push for real responsibility sharing by relocating asylum seekers from border states to other EU member states, including Ireland.

 In the short term, Irish Ministers urgently need to highlight the need to improve conditions in camps with their Greek counterparts and call for the establishments of a human rights monitoring system for these EU funded camps. In the longer-term, Ireland needs to encourage the Greek government and the European Commission to abandon the policy of closed camps and instead allow people to move freely while having their asylum-applications assessed, as they have committed to do in Ireland, by agreeing to close the direct provision system.

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350,000 children are at risk in Somalia

Photo: Petterik Wiggers/Oxfam Novib.

Your support is vital

In April, the UN predicted that 350,000 of the 1.4 million severely malnourished children in Somalia could die by the summer if the world did not take urgent action. That’s the equivalent of over four times the capacity of Croke Park. The impact of the food crisis in Somalia is hitting the poorest and youngest hardest.

The 18-month-old baby girl (pictured above) from Garowe, Somalia was at risk, but her parents carried her and her five-year-old brother to an Oxfam-supported camp to get help. When her mother and father were forced to leave their land, they carried not only their two children but also their two remaining goats.

These goats were the final survivors from the family’s herd of 150. Before the drought, this family could rely on their herd for milk, meat, and money. Now the remaining goats are too weak to produce milk.

Four consecutive seasons of failed rains has left this family with nothing. Now they can no longer cope. They can no longer provide for themselves. They can no longer feed their children. They need urgent food aid.

We must tackle food insecurity and malnutrition immediately. Your support today could provide food to this family.


Photo: Petterik Wiggers/Oxfam Novib.

Worst case scenario:

The image of Magda, shows what can happen without early intervention. Magda is fighting for her life. Her great-grandmother watches over her in Burao hospital. During her ten days there, she lost consciousness for four days due to severe malnutrition. Magda's mother is dependent on food from her family of pastoralist farmers. However, with two children and no income, she struggles to feed them as the region continues to suffer with the ongoing drought.

Oxfam’s response

We have been working in Somalia for over 40 years and are currently delivering a large-scale humanitarian response focusing on water, food, sanitation, and hygiene. Right now, our team in Somalia are working with the Water Ministry to drill four strategic boreholes so people can access safe, clean water. 650 families have received food to date, but ongoing registration is needed to ensure all vulnerable families in the region can be reached. An additional 1,230 families have already been identified and more continue to come forward.
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