Azraq Syrian Refugee Camp, AptART, UNICEF and Mercy Corps Mural Series Editorial
The Azraq Syrian Refugee Camp is by far one of the most bizarre places on earth. It is a refugee camp that looks like a perfectly gridded, sprawling, white-suburban housing development in the middle of the most desolate and inhospitable desert landscape. This other-worldly suburbia is composed of white sheet metal monopoly-like houses that span as far as the eye can see. In the middle is a western supermarket, stocked with modern conveniences from floor to ceiling. This camp was built in reaction to the overwhelming number of Syrians flooding into the Za’atari refugee camp, just over an hour and a half away. The camp is designed for over 130,000 refugees, and currently has between 7000 to 12000, with refugees fleeing illegally into Jordan daily. Some even choose to go back to Syria. Designed and built by a coalition of international donors and organizations, the camp cost over 64 million dollars to build. However, the Jordanian government only allowed it to be built in the most desolate region of the country, isolated and away from the rest of Jordanian society.
Unlike many other refugee camps, this camp did not evolve organically to fit the needs of the inhabitants, but in a machine-like manner with a western conception of pragmatism at the forefront. The dusty endlessness surrounding the refugee camp is only broken by abandoned Bedouin encampments and bulldozers peeling rock from the earth. The drive from Amman was like driving to the moon. When entering the lunar-suburbia, our car was checked by two heavily armed Jordanian guards and ultimately allowed us to pass. There is no public transportation, so stray people and families are wandering in this sea of dust, moving from one corrugated monopoly house to another. These lone silhouettes of fully-covered Muslim Syrians, inhabit the landscape in a bizarre welcome of unfathomability.
We arrived at the Mercy Corps Adolescent Friendly Space located in Village 3, one of only two sectors inhabited out of an existing six. The site set before us was a strange color contrast; a glimmering green astro-turf football field had been constructed inside a space enshrouded in a barbed wire chain-metal fence and four caravans in the middle of this gridded desolation. We were welcomed and greeted warmly. We set up a 10 meter canvas along the fence, mixed paint and began the workshop with 20 of the Syrian boys. We discussed ideas about the future, and what they wanted to say to the world. They were told this piece was to be cut up and displayed in an international exhibition of the European Union in Brussels, Belgium, and people from around the world would get to see their paintings. This was an opportunity for them to speak to the world.
As the boys got to drawing, the images that came out were full of violent images of the ravages of war. Planes dropping bombs, tanks shooting rockets, people with bloody limbs missing, people dying, people being killed and longings to return to Syria in spite of the war. However, while looking at the drawings together, we discussed how to turn these ideas into something productive. The answer, how to rebuild Syria. A simple hammer in a hand, and a school and a tree. Human desires for a landscape of rebuilding a lost home translated to paint.
The impossible truth is that all of these people are in an impossible situation. The Syrian Refugees pray to re-build Syria, as the destruction turns their homeland more into an apocalypse everyday, with both sides committing atrocities, and no “good guys” in sight. It is as though any morsel of positive attention with the kids is grabbed onto with the stringed grasp of life. A simple and earnest smile, or a pat on the back is like the world being reborn if only for a split second. But that second turned to hours, and the canvas resulting became an artifact made by the hands of a homeless generation.