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Syrian refugees riot as rainfall worsens camp conditions

By Taylor Luck - Jan 08,2013 - Last updated at Jan 08,2013

AMMAN — Violent riots erupted at the Zaatari Refugee Camp on Tuesday as heavy rain submerged hundreds of tents.

According to a security source, Syrian refugees clashed with security forces and aid workers at the camp near Mafraq, 80km north of Amman, early on Tuesday during a protest over the facility’s “lack of preparedness” for harsh weather conditions.

Some 200 residents attacked aid workers with stones and makeshift clubs during the daily food ration distribution, eyewitnesses said, forcing authorities to evacuate local and international staff from the camp.

Gendarmerie forces fired tear gas and live rounds into the air in order to disperse the mob, according to residents and security sources, with at least 20 arrests reported.

Seven aid workers were injured in the riots, according to the security source.

The clashes came as high-speed winds and heavy rainfall pounded the desert camp for the second straight day, damaging 500 tents and leaving dozens of families without shelter, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

The Jordan Hashemite Charity Organisation, which co-administers the camp along with the UN, said the heavy rainfall has forced officials to enact an “emergency response plan”, transferring hundreds of camp residents to makeshift housing.

Meanwhile, refugees criticised the “lack of winter preparations”, claiming that the camp suffers an ongoing shortage of kerosene, blankets and winter clothing.

“We are being drenched in pouring rain, frozen by strong winds, and the only thing we have to protect ourselves is a single blanket,” said Mohammed Zoubi, a 45-year-old Daraa resident and father of five.

Residents said the canvas tents were unable to keep out strong winds and torrential rains, which have submerged much of the camp in up to half a metre of water and mud.

The camp’s winter woes come as ongoing violence in Syria continues to drive Syrians into Jordan in record numbers, with the UN reporting the entry of 9,400 refugees since January 1.

The recent surge in new arrivals has pushed the total number of Zaatari residents to above 64,000, over the facility’s 60,000-person capacity.

In light of the influx, the government is racing to open the country’s second refugee camp, a 30,000-person facility on the outskirts of Zarqa, by the end of the month.

Efforts to meet the winter needs of Syrian refugees continue to be hampered by a funding shortfall, with the UN yet to receive over half a $400 million aid appeal launched last year.

Last month, UN officials launched a second, record $1 billion aid appeal to provide basic services for Syrian refugees, expected to top one million by June.

The Kingdom currently hosts some 295,000 of the 550,000 Syrians dispersed across the region: more than the rest of Syria’s neighbours combined.

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