ZARQA, Jordan — The elderly Syrian woman dressed in the traditional jalabiya robe and khimar head covering was tired, but she patiently answered the questions posed to her. "Yes, they killed everybody," she said, alluding to her village in southern Syria. "My son Muhammed … he was serving in the army, and the regime killed him."
The woman, like all those around her, was a refugee from the brutal two-year civil war raging in her homeland. Along with a few members of her immediate family, she had walked across the border into Jordan a few days before and was now waiting in a shaded reception area to be registered at Jordan's newest refugee camp, known as the Emirates-Jordan Camp (EJC).
Her family, along with a few dozen other Syrians of all ages, gathered around to answer questions, to have their voices heard. Unlike this old woman, many were laughing and smiling. They were the lucky ones: Not only had they fled the carnage with their lives, but they had been sent to this specific camp.
An estimated 500,000 Syrian refugees already reside in Jordan, and there is no end in sight to the influx. Opened in April, the EJC is the second camp for Syrian refugees established in the country. Located in a remote desert in Jordan's Halabat district near the city of Zarqa, an hour's drive north of Amman, the United Arab Emirates-funded camp is a marvel of humanitarian work. If there is such a thing as a "five-star refugee camp," international aid workers and refugees agree, this was it.
People on the ground in Jordan rightly praise the conditions at the EJC because they've seen the alternative firsthand. The new camp lives in the shadow of its older, larger, notorious neighbor -- the Zaatari camp, a few dozen miles north.
Zaatari, which holds an estimated 150,000 refugees, is now described as "Jordan's fifth-largest city." It is a teeming shantytown of tents, a massive strain on local and foreign resources, and a potential incubator of unrest. On April 19, a mass riot broke out in the camp, pitting stone-wielding refugees against Jordanian gendarmerie. Such disturbances have increased in recent months, leaving aid workers perplexed.
"No one knows what they want," a Jordanian aid worker employed by an international organization told me. "[Rioting] seems to be their way of communicating recently."