I travelled to Zaatari and Azraq Refugee Camps on the border of Jordan and Syria as part of my work with UNICEF. I got to meet Syrian children and their families living in those camps. About 80,000 people live in the Zaatari camp, which makes it Jordan's fourth-largest city. To meet the overwhelming number of refugees arriving into the country, a second camp, Azraq, was built in 2014.
It was an eye-opening and at times emotional trip for me visiting the Zaatari and Azraq camps. It’s never easy, but seeing what real people are going through first hand gives you a much better perspective than just looking at it on a TV screen or reading about it in a newspaper.
When we experience something firsthand, like talking to people or eating food, we finally understand that it's real.
In Azraq Refugee Camp I visited a shawarma store called The Rooster Crows. It served classic shawarma with roast chicken, garlic sauce, chilli and pickles. It tasted just fantastic. I wish we could get it in Australia.
And these delicious potato sandwiches, which are basically like a French fries kebab.
The owner of the store, Sameh Fayez Al Assaad, had come from Daraa, Syria, and has been in the camp for 2½ years. He had been a chef back in Syria. In Azraq, he has been able to continue cooking and preserve his Syrian culinary culture.
They sell for about 1 Jordanian dinar per shawarma or wrap, which is about 1 Australian dollar. For many of the residents of the camp, they receive only about 20 dinars per month per person, so a shawarma for one-twentieth of your monthly salary becomes quite a treat.
Perhaps in my mind before visiting Zaatari, I had expected wailing, breadlines, field hospitals and the hopelessness of people who have lost everything. But Zaatari is separated from the war if not wholly by distance, then at least by time. Most of the residents of Zaatari have been at the camp for more than five years, and while the horrors of war might have coloured the early days of the camp’s establishment, the feeling now is one of community.
You can hear Sameh's story in the video below.