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Syrian Refugees Attack Aid Workers Amid Deteriorating Conditions

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Call it a stampede or a riot or the chaos born of desperation. Syrian refugees in a camp in northern Jordan attacked aid workers today, using sticks and stones, after a major winter storm blew down tents and flooded streets. Police say seven aid workers were injured in the attack.

I spoke earlier with Dale Gavlak, who reports for the AP and NPR. She was at the Zaatari refugee camp and described what led to the riot.

DALE GAVLAK, BYLINE: There's been severe weather that we've experienced these past three days. And tomorrow, it's predicted that there may be snow. Basically, the rain and the wind brought down tents at the Zaatari camp, as well as flooded tents, making the tents uninhabitable for the refugees. And some took to rioting when bread was being distributed by a group called the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization. Now, that group, along with the U.N. refugee agency, actually administer the Zaatari camp.

BLOCK: And when you went to the today, what did it look like after the storm?

GAVLAK: Yeah, I mean, it was a big muddy mess. There were also huge puddles. I mean, there were actually small lakes in parts of the camp.

BLOCK: Now, how badly injured were those aid workers in this attack?

GAVLAK: Well, we were told that one was badly injured, that there was hemorrhaging from his head, but the others had lighter wounds. And, you know, of course, they were receiving treatment.

BLOCK: And the groups that are running the Zaatari camp, did they say: We're overwhelmed, we're doing the best we can or we need more help - what did they tell you?

GAVLAK: They do say that they are trying very hard. And, in fact, there have been real improvements. I mean there's a school at the camp. The U.N. refugee agency had provided a number of the refugees with trailers instead of tents, an extra tarp was put on top of the tents to, you know, try to keep out the rains.

But in this particular area that I witnessed, which to me seems to be the absolute worst, all of those factors were missing. There were no extra tarps. They weren't given heaters, so it means at night they just have blankets, which are insufficient to really keep out really freezing cold temperatures.

BLOCK: There have been riots at the Zaatari camp before this, I think, right?

GAVLAK: Yeah, that's correct. I mean, basically the refugees had complained that, you know, they were given meals which were inedible. And the camp is set on a desert plain, so during the summer months it was particularly windy; scorching temperatures and colder at night because it is desert. And there were also snakes and scorpions that they complained about, as well.

BLOCK: How many refugees are at this camp, Dale?

GAVLAK: OK, now nearly 50,000 refugees. And there have been more coming over in past days with, you know, increased violence taking place in Syria.

BLOCK: When you talked with the Syrian refugees who are living at the Zaatari camp, did anyone tell you, look, it's horrible, conditions are awful but at least we're out of a war zone?

GAVLAK: Yes, I mean, people do say that and many are very thankful not to be in Syria anymore; not to have to face bombings and shellings and, you know, witnessing family members being killed. But unfortunately, these people really found themselves in a very calamitous situation. I mean, humanly speaking, I could not imagine spending an hour under those circumstances. And you've got young kids to look after. I mean, it's impossible.

BLOCK: Well, Dale Gavlak, thanks for talking with us today.

GAVLAK: Thank you very much.

BLOCK: Dale Gavlak reports for NPR and the AP. We were talking about today's riots at the Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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