Refugees from Syria walk into Jordan at the Al Hadalat crossing on the far eastern border. Many paid hundreds of dollars to smugglers to help them avoid dangerous checkpoints and attacks. Lucian Perkins for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum
A member of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) helps an elderly woman with her belongings. Some of the refugees said their homes were destroyed by Syrian government forces. Most carried little more than bags of clothing. Lucian Perkins for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum
The refugees walked several miles across a buffer zone between Syria and Jordan. Lucian Perkins for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Jordanian troops and UNHCR members provide the refugees with blankets, water, and snacks before helping them onto trucks that will take them to a transit center and then to the Zaatari refugee camp. Lucian Perkins for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum
A young Syrian girl clutches her teddy bear as she waits to board a truck to a transit center. The majority of the refugees coming across the Syrian border into Jordan are children. Lucian Perkins for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Mike Abramowitz (center), director of the Museum’s Center for the Prevention of Genocide, and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson (left) collect eyewitness accounts from the refugees. Lucian Perkins for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Refugees huddle to keep warm after receiving blankets at a transit center on the Jordanian border. All told, roughly 600,000 refugees from Syria have crossed into Jordan since the civil war began three years ago. Lucian Perkins for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum
After arriving at a transit center, the refugees wait to see what will happen to them next. Lucian Perkins for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum
The Zaatari refugee camp houses more than 100,000 people displaced by the violence in Syria. Lucian Perkins for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Zaatari is now the second-largest refugee camp in the world and the fourth largest city in Jordan. Lucian Perkins for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Reflecting on the trip, the Museum’s Mike Abramowitz said, “As we looked at the young faces around us, we were struck by the reality that what’s at risk in the current crisis is not just the present but also the future of Syria.” Lucian Perkins for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum
In February 2014 the Museum sent a delegation to Jordan to bear witness to the plight of refugees fleeing the violence in Syria. In one of the worst humanitarian crises the world has seen in recent decades, some 9 million civilians—almost half the population of Syria—have been displaced from their homes and 2.4 million of them are now living as refugees in neighboring countries.
With assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mike Abramowitz, director of the Museum’s Center for the Prevention of Genocide; Michael Gerson, a former Museum Council member and a Washington Post columnist; and photographer Lucian Perkins visited the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan and traveled to that country’s eastern border with Syria.
There they spoke face to face with families fleeing from the cities in the middle of the Syrian conflict, including Homs, Aleppo, Dara’a, and suburbs of Damascus.
- Read the trip report.
- Watch Lucian Perkins’s trip video highlighting the refugees’ plight.
- Listen to an interview with Mike Abramowitz and Michael Gerson on NPR’s Morning Edition (external link).
- Watch Lucian Perkins’s interview on the BBC (external link).
Lives in the Balance
Most of the refugees had seen their homes destroyed, often by heavy bombing by Syrian government helicopters and war planes, and they described efforts by government forces to deliberately starve civilian noncombatants into submission. Their stories left little doubt that the unstated goal of the government’s military strategy is to target and eliminate civilians in Sunni neighborhoods that are strategically important to the Assad regime.
The refugees gave voice to a deep sense of despair about the situation inside Syria. The Museum delegation returned to the United States certain that thousands more civilians will starve to death, be displaced, or be killed unless there is a much more vigorous effort from the international community to halt the conflict and address the growing humanitarian crisis. Moreover, the impact of the crisis extends far beyond Syria to places throughout the Middle East and will have widespread human and strategic consequences for years to come.