Mercy Corps a beacon of hope for refugees

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The situation is desparate for Syrians fleeing to Jordan, says Tom Murray, but one city charity is making a difference

There is no resolution in sight for the war in Syria. I saw the impact the conflict is having first-hand earlier this month during my visit to refugee camps in Jordan with Mercy Corps, the Edinburgh-based charity I support.

The camps are filled with hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have fled the violence that has consumed their home country. Many thousands more families will come to Jordan as the conflict continues.

Each morning buses collect refugees who have managed to reach the border. They bring them to the reception centre at the main camp in Jordan, Zaatari. Every day anywhere between 500 and 2000 new refugees arrive.

During my visit I was particularly struck by the sight of these newly-arrived families. Exhausted and spent, they sat on the ground with the two boxes of aid and mattresses they were given, waiting to be shown to the tents that would become their homes for the foreseeable future.

These tents that make up Zaatari camp are on a vast, dusty plain. It was opened last year to host up to 70,000 refugees, but filled up rapidly and is already beyond double its capacity. Though the wind whipped the dust up into clouds while I was there, I’m told that on clear days you can hear the distant noise of battle and see flashes of explosions on the horizon inside Syria.

In the dust of Zaatari, like much of Jordan, there is no natural water supply and it’s a struggle to find enough to survive. Here in Edinburgh, most of us use between 150 and 300 litres of water across the course of a day. But many refugees in Jordan must survive on less than ten litres a day to drink and cook with as well as wash themselves and their clothes. It’s hard to imagine.

Mercy Corps is drilling two wells 450 metres into the earth that will be able to pump up 110,000 litres of water an hour to tackle the problem. When it’s complete there will be enough to keep all the families in Zaatari alive. The expensive and limited trucks that have been bringing in water so far won’t be needed any longer.

The number of children living in the camps is astounding too. Mercy Corps are doing what they can to give them a normal life, building playgrounds and setting up cinema tents showing children’s films to keep them entertained and make them smile. There’s also the chance to go to school, though space is limited and children must come in shifts: 3000 for classes in the morning and 3000 take their turn in the afternoon.

The stories Syrian refugees tell of life before they escaped across the border are sobering. So many have lost so much. I am proud to be part of Mercy Corps and to support their work. Though the crisis in Syria is unlikely to end soon, together we can help those who have run from the violence survive and regain some semblance of a normal life.

Tom Murray is a director on the Board of humanitarian charity Mercy Corps and a partner with Gillespie Macandrew specialising in charity law