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Refugee camp turning into city

| Friday, Nov. 1, 2013, 8:33 p.m.
REUTERS
Syrian refugees wait to register their names after their arrival at the Al Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, on Wednesday, March 6. REUTERS
In this Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013, photo, Syrian refugees wait for tents and blankets during the early morning at the new arrivals point at the Zaatari refugee camp near the Syrian border in Jordan. With Syria’s civil war in its third year, more than 2 million Syrians have fled their country. About 100,000 live in this camp. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo)

ZAATARI CAMP, Jordan — The manager of the region's largest camp for Syrian refugees arranges toy figures, trucks and houses on a map in his office trailer to illustrate his vision. In a year, he wants to turn the chaotic shantytown of 100,000 into a temporary city with local councils, paved streets, parks, an electricity grid and sewage pipes.

Zaatari, a desert camp near Jordan's border with Syria, is far from that ideal. Life is tough here. The strong often take from the weak, women fear going to communal bathrooms after dark, sewage runs between pre-fab trailers and boys hustle for pennies, carting goods in wheelbarrows instead of going to school.

But with Syria's civil war in its third year, the more than 2 million Syrians who fled their country need long-term solutions, said Kilian Kleinschmidt, who runs Zaatari for the U.N. refugee agency.

“We are setting up ... a temporary city, as long as people have to be here,” said Kleinschmidt, a 51-year-old German.

Many Zaatari residents acknowledge that a quick return is unlikely.

“At the beginning, we counted (our exile) in months, then years, and now maybe decades,” said Khaled Zoabi, in his 60s, drinking tea with other refugees in a trailer-turned-men's social club.

Signs of refugees putting down roots are everywhere, just 15 months since Jordan opened the camp.

Many tents have been replaced with trailers, with satellite dishes installed on roofs. Refugees have started hundreds of businesses. The camp has three schools, two hospitals and a maternity clinic.

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