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Zaatari Refugee Camp


Aerial View of Zaatari Refugee Camps growth from 2012-2015

In 2011 Syria erupted in brutal conflict forcing more than 2.5 Million Syrians to flee their beloved home in order to find peace and safety.  While many found refuge in neighbouring countries approximately 80000 people have settled on a three-square-mile piece of land located in the desolate Jordanian desert now known as the Zaatari refugee camp.  Although originally set up as a temporary tent settlement in 2012 for a few hundred Syrians, the Zaatari camp  4 years on has turned into a semi-permanent home for many  and is now the 4th largest city in the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan.  Of the approximate 80000 persons of concern, 57% are youths with 19.9% being under 5 years of age.   In addition on average, there are another 80 births per week. 

In an attempt to organize the Zaatari camp more like a city the 5.3 square kilometres of semi- permanent housing has been divided into 12 districts.   The UNHCR (2016) report there is now 27000 pre-fabricated caravans, 9 schools, 27 community centres, 2 hospitals and 9 healthcare centres.  The main street which has been named the Champs Elysees has also become a hub of street vendors with 3000 makeshift shops selling a range of food, clothes and household goods.  Although the camps expansion and re-organization has seen many benefit from the change, the gap has now widened with those who are highly dependent on international aid.  In particular this tends to be the disabled, women and children who are heads of their families.   

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Current state of Education in Zaatari

Currently there are 9 formal schools open in the Zaatri Refugee camp with 20,771 school aged children enrolled (UNHCR, 2016).  These schools operate on a two shift basis with girls attending in the morning and boys attending in the afternoon.  With the schools in the Zaatri camp operating on this current system, children are receiving fewer hours of instruction in comparison to other public schools.  This means that in addition to the lost time students have spent without an education the gap is continuing to widen.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) some of the schools in the Zaatari camp also lacked electricity, lighting, heating, cooling, running water and windows.  Bassam, who teaches three different classes with a total of 120 students in Zaatari camp, said, “There’s no drinking water at school, no food, and no electricity,” which left classrooms exposed to desert heat in late spring and early fall, and very cold in winter (HRW, 2016).

The lack of formal teacher training has also been voiced as a concern by many teaching in the Zaatari schools.  These teachers feel unable to cater to children suffering from psychological distress and have difficulties with classroom management.  As a result many teachers resort to corporal punishment in order to control difficult classroom environments. 

Although there are many barriers that prevent children from attending school such as violence, bullying, discrimination and cost, according HRW the distance to school is a major contributing factor for not attending.  In particular for young children in the sprawling Zaatari refugee camp it is a main obstacle due to safety concerns when returning home at night along dark, unlit paths during the winter. 

With all that these children have experienced in their short lives it seems criminal that barriers such as safe travel to school is what is depriving them of the one thing that not only yields important developmental benefits but that promotes individual freedom and empowerment.  In meeting human rights and ensuring there is no lost generation in Syria, many organisations and initiatives such as UNESCO and UNHCR are working towards overcoming these barriers in order to provide an education for refugees in the Zaatari camp.  The designing of a future learning space that eliminates some of these obstacles to ensure an education for girls will hopefully assist in this process of achieving a fundamental human right. 


Daily Telegraph. (2016). Inside the largest Syrian refugee camp – Zaatari camp three years on. Retrieved from:

Human Rights Watch. (2016). We’re Afraid for Their Future; Barriers to education for Syrian refugee children in Jordan. Retrieved from:

LIVED. (n.d). The Zaatari Refugee Camp. Retrieved from:

UNHCR. (2016). Zaatari Refugee Camp Fact Sheet. Retrieved from:


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