Kilian Kleinschmidt, UNHCR, chef för flyktinglägret Zaatari på gränsen mellan Syrien och Jordanien.

Kilian Kleinschmidt, UNHCR’s Senior Field Coordinator of the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. 

Photo: UNHCR/J. Kohler

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UNHCR’s Senior Field Coordinator of the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan visits Sida

Updated: 24 September 2014

The large-scale Syrian refugee crisis needs investments in order to reach a sustainable and cost-effective management, stresses Kilian Kleinschmidt, UNHCR’s Senior Field Coordinator of the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. He visited Sida to share his experiences from the camp. 

The four-year-long Syrian conflict has escalated remarkably and almost 11 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. The UN estimates that nearly 6.5 million people are internally displaced in Syria and over 3 million are refugees in Syria’s neighbouring countries, including Lebanon (1 185.000), Turkey (850.000), Jordan (615.000), Iraq (215.000) and Egypt (140.000).

When the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan was established in 2012 as a response to thousands of people escaping the Syrian conflict and crossing the border to Jordan, the supplies were quickly made available thanks to the assistance from donors, the Jordanian authorities and an effective cooperation between these parts:

“ We managed very well to respond to the initial needs of these people. No one in the camp has gone a single day without food or access to clean water or sanitation,” says Kilian Kleinschmidt.

Located in the desert landscape in northern Jordan, Zaatari has expanded rapidly over a short period of time to become one of the world’s largest refugee camps. Currently, it is the home of 80 000 people following that the numbers of new arrivals has gone down and many have left the area. Despite years of experience working with displaced populations around the world, this one was exceptionally difficult to handle back in 2012 when Kilian Kleinschmidt was appointed by UNHCR as Senior Field Coordinator of Zaatari. Riots and violence against aid workers were commonplace, as were problems with illegal tapping of the camp’s electricity. The camp’s location only 12 km from the Syrian border added further tension: from here those who manage to escape the horrors of the war in Syria can still hear the bombs exploding.

Individual needs in focus

According to Kilian Kleinschmidt, the situation in the camp has reached a level of stability today, which was needed in order to establish a more functioning community and social system. This, in turn, allows for better protection and opportunities for better understanding of who needs assistance or special attention and in what ways. Many have experienced horrific events that left them traumatized and carry incredible stories of violence from Syria. Knowing this, a standardized way of dealing with these people was not the right approach:

“ Today we have reached a better understanding about the population, which means a responsibility to act more. We are dealing with in-depth problems that come with a dysfunctional society in Syria translated into problems in the camp. An important part of our job is to bring back the dignity to these people who have lost everything,” explains Kilian Kleinschmidt.

One such initiative is the voucher system used for food and other supplies. Instead of having to queue up and beg for in-kind assistance at the soup kitchens, this system allows people to become “dignified shoppers” and pick their supplies off the shelves in one of the many shops and market areas available in the camp. 

“ Everybody has their own taste and desires. Therefore it must be possible to put mechanisms in place allowing people to decide for themselves what type of blanket or how many litres of water they want. The task lies in reducing the time spent on survival so that these people can move towards a socially integrated life where the children can resume their education,” says Mr. Kleinschmidt.

Kleinschmidt explains that there is a need not only for humanitarian assistance but also for investments and experience exchange, such as the cooperation with the municipality of Amsterdam on building a cost-effective infrastructure.

“Right now we need a sustainable and cost-effective delivery of fresh water and collection of waste water. While we can control the electricity today we should also be able to bring this down to a subsidized electricity supply particularly for the most vulnerable while those who have the resources can pay,” says Kilian Kleinschmidt.

A new settlement such as Zaatari also provides opportunities for change, giving people who flee their land a chance to recreate their lives:

“For many life in the camp is sometimes better than home. Especially for girls, the refuge can mean better opportunities to access education, skills and social life in the camp than what many of them had back in more traditional societies particularly,” explains Kleinschmidt.

Sida’s total humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people affected by the crisis reaches 268 million Swedish kronor (SEK), including over 100 million to refugees in Syria’s neighbouring countries (Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and Iraq). 
In 2014 up to this date, our assistance to UNHCR globally reaches a total of 128 SEK, which covers both the support at regional and country level.


Page owner: Communication Unit

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