First Published: 2012-11-07


Cameron from refugee camp in Jordan: I'll ensure Syria is top priority


British Prime Minister vows to do more to help end crisis in Syria, as he makes surprise visit to sprawling Zaatari refugee camp.


Middle East Online

By Hazel Ward - ZAATARI REFUGEE CAMP (Jordan)

High-profile visit draws few onlookers

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday vowed to do more to help end the crisis in Syria, as he made a surprise visit to the sprawling Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan.

His appearance at the camp, just 30 kilometres (18 miles) from the Syrian border, came at the end of a three-day Middle Eastern tour which also took him to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

"Right here in Jordan I am hearing appalling stories about what has happened inside Syria so one of the first things I want to talk to Barack (Obama) about is how we must do more to try to solve this crisis," Cameron told reporters at the camp, shortly after hearing about Obama's re-election as US president.

Dressed casually in black trousers and a dark grey shirt, Cameron made a brief stop at the portacabins where a handful of people were applying for their official UN refugee cards, stopping to chat with a smiling woman in a headscarf.

But the high-profile visit drew few onlookers.

"Is it the king?" wondered a young boy in yellow plastic sandals as Britain's premier strode down a dusty road between the rows of tents before disappearing into a school run by UNICEF where the children sang to him in Arabic.

Few knew who he was and fewer still cared when they heard that the British prime minister was visiting this sprawling tent city which is home to some 36,000 refugees who fled the fighting in neighbouring Syria.

"It was a shallow visit -- he didn't ask anything about what we need," said Umm Omar, a 45-year-old teacher who was at the school when Cameron visited, but could not understand his remarks in English.

"We don't have pencils, we don't have notebooks, we don't even have anything to write on the board with," she said.

"This visit will never make any change," agreed 26-year-old Hayal Jabr, a maths teacher. "Many people have visited us because of our situation here and we don't get anything."

Some metres (yards) from the school, several young men lounged around on makeshift foam sofas inside a tent which has been turned into a coffee shop of sorts, its tables made of hardboard and breeze blocks.

None of them had any idea that the British leader was visiting.

"We have no idea who comes and goes or why. And nothing changes after any of these visits," said Abu Firas, a father of four who fled from his home city of Daraa in southern Syria three months ago.

"We came with just the clothes on our back. The nights are cold and the children don't have enough clothes to keep warm," he said, adding that they were given three pieces of pitta bread per person per day.

So far, the West has done nothing to help the Syrian people, he said.

"We don't need food, we don't need money, we don't need anything except the fall of Bashar al-Assad's regime."

News that Britain was to begin talks with armed Syrian opposition groups was greeted with open frustration.

"We've been hearing about talks for months. There is no need for any talks -- it's just allowing the regime to kill more people," snapped Ahmed al-Hariri, a haggard-looking and red-eyed former civil servant.

"We are bored of all these talks for nothing. They meet for half an hour and in that time hundreds more people are killed," he said.

"We need action, not talk."

In Zaatari, Cameron pledged to increase Britain's aid to the refugees by £14 million (17.5 million euros, $22.5 million), bringing the total to more than £50 million, officials said.

In Amman, Cameron held talks with King Abdullah II on the Syrian crisis during which they agreed "on the importance of stopping the violence and bloodshed and the urgent need for an agreement on a political transition to bring peace to the Syrian people," a British embassy statement said.

The palace said Cameron left Jordan following the meeting.

"The king stressed the need to preserve Syria's unity, warning against the conflict's catastrophic repercussions for the region," it said in a statement.

Jordan says it is hosting more than 200,000 Syrian refugees who have fled the violence ravaging their homeland since a popular uprising erupted more than 19 months ago.


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