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Zaatari camp: taking care of women and the future generation

A new-born baby at the women and girls comprehensive centre in Zaatari camp. ©EU/ECHO/Peter Biro

Zaatari camp is situated near the city of Mafraq in northern Jordan, it is the largest camp of its kind in the world outside of Africa. At its peak it had about 120 000 inhabitants. This number has now stabilised at about 80 000. It is a unique place with an atmosphere which takes you in from the moment you enter. Zaatari camp is more than that; it  is also a bustling city with a main shopping street, schools, hospitals and even its own police. Its citizens are refugees, but refugees who paint their containers and send their kids to schools. Children play everywhere and parents try to make a living beyond the help they receive.  

Tihamér Czika- Communications Officer, Middle-East and European Neighbourhood

Tihamér Czika, Communications Officer, Middle-East and European Neighbourhood

Zaatari’s population, most of whom come from southern Syria, has faced many difficulties before reaching the camp.  The camp was hastily opened in July 2012 as tens of thousands of people fled across the border in a matter of weeks. First there were only tents, then containers; then eventually the streets and services came.

Some refugee needs call for a specialised response. As a result of the conflict, women and girls face a number of challenges in host countries: lack of proper medical care, poor access to reproductive health services, unwanted pregnancies, unsafe deliveries and different types of sexually transmitted diseases. To address these issues in Zaatari camp, EU Humanitarian Aid is funding a fully-fledged maternity hospital in the camp, the women and girls comprehensive centre, run by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and coordinated with Jordanian authorities and hospitals.

Children play football in front of a painted container home.

Children play football in front of a painted container home. ©EU/ECHO/Peter Biro

Established in 2013, the clinic operates 24 hours, 7 days a week with 83 members of staff. It has on average five to seven births a day. Children born in the centre are registered in the camp and receive a Jordanian birth certificate.  In February 2017, the number of births reached 7000.

Beyond the deliveries, the reproductive health services provided at the centres include ante and post-natal care, family planning, post abortion care and counselling, prevention and management of sexually transmitted infections, clinical management of rape, psychosocial counselling, and referral services for complicated deliveries to bigger Jordanian hospitals.

Fatima and her son Mohammed.

Fatima and her son Mohammed. ©EU/ECHO/Peter Biro

Early marriage is still widespread among the Syrian refugee population in Jordan. This is partly due to tradition, but also a result of economic hardship.  Fatima, 16 (not her real name) is from Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus. She met her 20-year-old husband in the camp, although he lived and worked in nearby Mafraq. She did not want to get married, but her parents insisted. Fatima says she loves her husband but if she had a choice, she would have preferred to finish her studies before getting married. They married in Mafraq in a big ceremony, with many of her family getting their one-day permit to leave Zaatari camp for the wedding. Her husband moved into the camp and they are now raising their son together.

Fatima arrived at the clinic during labour, speaking of her experience she says, "The birth went well, the father also attended. I was discharged 24 hours after the birth. I've had post-natal treatment for one more month. I am happy with the services I got in the clinic and I am thankful for them. My son is healthy. I want him to study more than I could because of our situation, because of the war."

Next door to the clinic, UNFPA also runs an EU-funded youth centre where young single women and men between 15 and 24 regularly take part in different information sessions, learning about reproductive health, family planning, sexually transmitted infections and gender-based violence.

A professional trainer leads an educational game about reproductive health.

A professional trainer leads an educational game about reproductive health. ©EU/ECHO/Tihamér Czika

"We have these youngsters eager for information, playing together different games where we actually teach them very important things,” said says Abeer Shraiteh, an UNFPA emergency field officer. “Beyond the sexual education they get, it is also an opportunity for them to meet and socialise, so young people really like to come here a lot." 

With the support of the EU and other donors, UNFPA's achievements have been critical in defining quality standards of reproductive health care in Zaatari camp. EU aid supports women, and children of the next generation, so they can return to their homes or start a new life wherever they like.