By David Youngmeyer
ZA’ATARI, Jordan, 31 January 2013 – Every day is different for Konady Kone, who is UNICEF’s man on the ground at Za’atari, a sprawling refugee camp in the northern Jordanian desert, near the Syrian border.
|UNICEF’S emergency officer, Konady Kone at the Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan, Konady Kone, speaks with Syrian families and assesses the conditions on the ground. Watch in RealPlayer|
Konady’s role as Emergency Field Support Specialist, or UNICEF camp manager for short, takes him to the camp almost daily and brings him into regular contact with refugee families and staff of partner agencies all over the site, which houses some 70,000 people. He is equal parts administrator, trouble shooter, and diplomat.
Large influx of refugees
One of the key issues facing the camp today is the large influx of refugees arriving from Syria. Some 30,000 Syrians have fled to Jordan since January of this year, twice the amount that arrived in December 2012.
Children and families are picked up by buses after crossing the border and escorted to a reception area at the camp, where they are registered and provided with accommodation and basic supplies, such as blankets and food.
The journey out of Syria can be difficult and dangerous, with some refugees being injured by fire or shrapnel. Many families travel by foot at night, taking back routes to avoid the fighting. It can take hours or days to reach the border.
|© UNICEF Jordan/2013/Youngmeyer|
|UNICEF Emergency Field Support Specialist, Konday Kone, addresses an issue raised by a Syrian refugee man at Za’atari refugee camp in northern Jordan.|
Konady is a well-known figure at the camp. As he walks through the camp children tag along, while the occasional adult refugee stops to discuss an issue or get advice. UNICEF has a significant presence at the camp, working with partners to provide water, sanitation facilities, hygiene supplies, vaccinations, children’s winter clothing, education, and child protection services.
Konady visits an elderly couple living in a tent in the older part of the camp: “Just to chat to them and to see if they have any issues we can try and solve.”
The elderly grandfather, in his late 80s, explains that he, his wife and their extended family of about 60 people including children, left Syria about six months ago. They had walked for four hours to get to Jordan. Although they have very little, they insist on Konady taking tea. The family report that temperatures during the day are manageable, but that it gets very cold at night. They have concerns about the number of blankets and quantity of heating gas they have been issued.
Konady’s next stop is a new section of the camp, where workers are installing gas water heating systems at community shower blocks. Gas boilers have already been installed at more than 48 of the blocks, ensuring the provision of hot water to over 14,000 refugees at Za’atari. The continuing influx of refugees puts a great strain on the existing water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, with new toilets and washing facilities under construction to meet demand.
|© UNICEF Jordan/2013/Youngmeyer|
|A new section of Za’atari refugee camp where pre-fabricated shelters replace tents.|
Another issue is the aftermath of the recent heavy rain and snow, which caused widespread flooding at the camp and swamped many tents. UNICEF distributed emergency warm clothing, along with sleeping mats to replace those soaked by the rain. Hundreds of refugees moved to the shelter of the camp school. Several weeks later, they are still there, creating a potential issue for thousands of children preparing to return to classes.
Konady meets with partner agencies to discuss the situation and ensure that the displaced families have somewhere to move to, along with basic supplies, once they leave the school. He then makes his way to the school to meet with refugee families. Although some families are moving out, many are staying put in the classrooms –desks and chairs piled up to make space.
Konady says many people have told him that the school is more than a place to learn – it is a stabilizing factor at the camp as a whole.
“That’s why there are many people who are feeling bad that the school is not back to normal,” says Konady. “They all want people to get out of here so that they can start teaching. Anything to help the school to be a school again.”
Says Konady: “I am happy to be able to talk to the refugees, get their opinion about the service we are giving them and that’s how we improve things.”
Crisis in Syria