New life in time of death and horror

Syrians have suffered unimaginable terror in the civil war that has torn their lives apart. Yet amid the tales of woe the human drive for life flourishes, and thousands of babies have been born in refugee camps.

If anything illustrates the enormity and human cost of the Syrian refugee crisis, as well as humanity’s capacity to endure, it is Rima Mahmoud Salameh.

The 5,000th baby to have been delivered in the maternity clinic of Zaatari Camp, which sits on Jordan’s border with Syria, Rima is the latest addition to a family that includes three generations of refugees.

Rima’s parents, Kholoud Suleiman, 20, and Mohammed Salameh, 22, were born in refugee camps, as was Alaa, her 21-month-old sister, and the family now live in a temporary cabin.

Kholoud and Mohammed are from Deraa, in Syria’s south, and left the country two and three years ago, respectively. The couple knew each other in Syria but it is in Zaatari they were married and started their family.

Rima, named after the doctor who delivered her, was born in the camp’s clinic, a ramshackle collection of cabins run by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The doctors and midwives at the clinic have delivered 5,000 children without a single loss of life.

The UNFPA estimated that of 637,000 registered refugees in Jordan, 16,000 are pregnant at any one time and about 80 children are born in Zaatari Camp each week, giving it the highest birth rate in Jordan.

Before Zaatari was established in 2011, the strip of desert it occupies was an empty patch of sand, but the 7.7-square-kilometre camp is now home to an estimated 81,000 people who find haven in more than 30,000 buildings.

At the camp half a million pieces of bread and 3.4 million litres of water are distributed every day. The camp is recognised as the fourth-largest city in Jordan and the third-largest refugee camp in the world.

From Syria alone, Jordan has accepted more than a million and a half refugees, many of whom live outside camps in its towns and cities, leading King Abdullah of Jordan to describe the desert kingdom as a country at “boiling point” as it struggles to cope with the huge numbers of refugees.

Of the 4.5 million Syrians who are believed to have fled their country – a fifth of the pre-war population – an estimated 635,000 have sought refuge in Jordan.

*With files from Olivia Alabaster