Jordan opens first tent camp for thousands of Syrian refugees

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ZATAARI, JordanJordan opened on Sunday its first tent camp for Syrians fleeing violence in their country, as government officials said a surge of refugees left them no other choice.

Authorities had been reluctant to set up the camp, possibly to avoid angering Syrian President Bashar Assad’s autocratic regime by concentrating images of civilians fleeing his military onslaught.

But with 142,000 Syrians seeking refuge in their southern neighbor and the figure growing daily by up to 2,000, Jordanian authorities said they simply had to act.

“Reality has pushed us to open this camp,” Interior Minister Ghaleb Zoubi told a gathering of aid officials during the camp’s opening in the hamlet of Zataari, about seven miles from the Syrian border.

“We’ve hosted Syrians in our homes, in even larger numbers than where they have been housed in holding centers,” he said. “This has created a pressure on Jordan, especially given the water and electricity shortages we face.”

Jordan is one of the world’s 10 poorest countries in terms of water resources, and its electricity supplies have been sharply curbed due to militant bombings of a natural gas pipeline from Egypt that supplies power plants.

Feeling the weight of fresh refugees, the capital of Amman has made an appeal to the international community to help shoulder the refugee burden by providing financial aid.

While the country has opened its schools and hospitals to care for the Syrians, it continues to host hundreds of thousands of Palestinian and Iraqi refugees.

About 600 refugees were to be admitted to the camp late Sunday after breaking the fast they are following for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, said Andrew Harper, a representative of the U.N.’s refugee agency.

Neither Jordan nor the U.N. had wanted to erect the tent camp in the desert under the summer heat during Ramadan, Mr. Harper said.

“We’ve got no choice. Jordanian communities are overwhelmed with Syrians,” he said, adding that transit facilities in the country designed to host 2,000 people are brimming with five times that number.

The new camp initially will host 5,000 refugees.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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