Not gone, but forgotten? Syrian refugees struggle to move forward.

In its first years, the Zaatari Refugee Camp in northern Jordan made headlines for cutting-edge innovation: prefabricated housing, sewage and water systems, schools, the world’s first solar power plant in a refugee camp.

Yet today the homes are well past their six-year shelf life, and it shows. Floors are cracked, roofs are collapsing, and mold is spreading. U.N. staff warn the vast majority of the 26,000 trailers require urgent renovation. But unfulfilled hopes for the Syrian refugees here are a greater concern, they say.

Why We Wrote This

An outpouring of international generosity and compassion a decade ago created a refuge for Syrians fleeing civil war, offering them security, stability, dignity, and hope. What happens when the world’s focus moves on?

“When we first arrived in Jordan our needs were shelter, food, and safety – which we were graciously provided by Jordan and the international community,” says Mohammed Hariri, who fled Syria in 2012 with his family. “Now we worry about … securing futures for our children.”

Jordan, with a 25% unemployment rate, allows Syrians only to work in agriculture, manufacturing, restaurants, and construction. The best Syrian university graduates can hope for is a volunteer position with the U.N. Meanwhile, scholarships for Syrian students in Jordan have dried up.

Officials say that sends a hope-dashing message.

“The worry,” says UNHCR spokesperson Roland Schoenbauer, “is an entire generation will give up on their future and say, ‘I’ll sell vegetables or get my humanitarian assistance and sit and wait like everyone else.’”

Gone are the Hollywood A-listers who once walked this refugee camp’s dusty streets as regularly as down-the-street neighbors.

The gleaming white trailers that once adorned glossy pamphlets highlighting NGO success stories in the Zaatari camp are weather-beaten, gray, cracked, and leaking.

The colorful murals of Damascene courtyards painted on their sides, meant to console or inspire their inhabitants, have faded in the desert sun.

Why We Wrote This

An outpouring of international generosity and compassion a decade ago created a refuge for Syrians fleeing civil war, offering them security, stability, dignity, and hope. What happens when the world’s focus moves on?

Even the constant stream of high-profile journalists and Western leaders – who used this barren border location as a backdrop for news reports and carefully curated media tours to discuss the Syrian conflict a few miles away – has dried up.

An outpouring of international generosity and compassion prompted by the horrors of Syria’s civil war created this refuge, providing its residents – for a time – with security, stability, dignity, and hope after the trauma of fleeing their homes.

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