Syrian women giving birth in exile of refugee camp

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 7, 2013 at 3:08 pm •  Published: May 7, 2013
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ZAATARI, Jordan (AP) — In a tent hospital bed, a Syrian woman who was four months pregnant when she fled her country's civil war cradles one of the newest residents of this dust-swept refugee camp: Her newborn son, just delivered by cesarean.

Around a dozen babies are born every day in Zaatari camp, which is home to 120,000 Syrians and counting — and there's only one, overworked Moroccan doctor performing C-sections.

Still, the clinic where he operates and several other field hospitals here performing regular births are a moment of quality care for women dealing with pregnancy on top of the trauma suffered in their homeland and the hardship of exile in a rough camp.

"Thank God, we have clean facilities and safe instruments in such a refugee camp," the woman, Umm Raad, said this week in the maternity ward of the Moroccan field hospital, holding her hour-old baby, Abdullah. Like other women in the camp she asked to be identified by her nickname for fear of repercussions against her family still in Syria.

Over 10 months, Zaatari near the border with Syria has catapulted from a barren patch of desert to effectively become Jordan's fifth largest city, and it's still rapidly growing. They are only a portion of the more than half million Syrian refugees in Jordan, the rest of whom live in towns and cities around the country, with 1,500-3,000 more crossing in from Syria every day.

The United Nations and other international agencies are racing to try to provide them with medical services — including for pregnant women or women with newborn children.

"There are 10 to 13 births taking place every day in the Zaatari camp alone," said Muna Idris, the assistant representative to Jordan for the U.N. Population Fund, known by the acronym UNFPA. "We're expecting that number to increase as the number of refugees in the camp increases."

By the end of the year, she estimated, there will be 1.2 million refugees in Jordan — "of that number there will be 30,000 who are pregnant."

More than a quarter of the population at Zaatari are women of childbearing age, a significant portion of whom fled here with their children, but not their husbands, who remained behind to deal with businesses, protect homes or even fight in the rebellion against President Bashar Assad's regime.

In the camp, housed in tents or trailers, they find themselves dealing with the bitter cold in the winter and burning dust storms in the spring and summer — as well as the daily struggle of living with few resources except international rations. Many of the women talk of the burdens of collecting water from the camp's communal facilities and walking long distances for clinic visits, then waiting long hours in the sun for their turn — usually with young children in tow.

Um Mohamed, a 29-year-old woman now in the ninth month of her pregnancy, arrived in the camp with her four children last month from Daraa, the southern Syrian town just across the border from Zaatari and a raging battle zone.

"I find it difficult having to do so many things by myself," she said. "My husband is still inside Syria and my children are very young."

She says she's lucky to be staying with a relative in a camp trailer. "But often we find ourselves without water. And we certainly have no money," she lamented.

Hanging over her is the worry of giving birth in indefinite exile.

"This child of mine and the others born here are not born in their own country, their own home. What will their futures be?"

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