Graffiti at Zaatari camp speaks of determination, frustration

29 Aug 2014 11:48 PM

by Areej Abuqudairi |

MAFRAQ — In late July, approximately 3,000 white tents branded with the logo of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) were erected at the Zaatari Refugee Camp, 80 kilometres northeast of Amman.

Within days, thousands of refugees started to move in and graffiti started to appear on tents, caravans, toilet stalls and even trash containers.

Some refugees say that graffiti is a way for them to “participate in the revolution” from a distance.

“This is a new form of jihad. We must continue our revolution by any means. If I were in Syria, I would be fighting [President Bashar] Assad’s gangs. Here I feel helpless. All I can do is just write things on walls,” said a refugee from the Syrian city of Daraa.

“Although we left Syria, the revolution did not die inside us. We are standing with our people there. We still want a free Syria and we want Bashar to leave,” said another.

“Freedom” and “justice” are two common slogans that appear on the tents, while others call on Assad to “leave” or describe him as a “dog” or a “duck”.

According to news reports, graffiti played a role in igniting the Syrian uprising last year, when a group of young men were reportedly arrested for painting anti-government graffiti in the southern city of Daraa in March 2011.

Their arrests sparked protests across the country, calling for freedom and an end to the Assad regime.

Traumatised by the conflict, which has dragged on longer than they anticipated, some refugees are using graffiti as a means to “cleanse” their souls of the worries of the conflict and the harshness of displacement. 

Twenty-year-old Mohammad said he ordered spray paint from the nearby city of Mafraq to vent his “fear” and “anger”.

“People are feeling suffocated here. Bashar slaughtered our relatives. He destroyed our homeland. The future remains unknown. We are angry over what happened to us but also afraid of the future,” he told The Jordan Times.

Mohammad is not the only one using this medium to express rage at the Syrian leader. Trash containers can be seen all over the camp marked with labels like “Bashar’s home” and “Bashar’s food”.

“We hate him after all he did to us. He should be the one humiliated, not these innocent women and children,” said Mohammad. 

“We are living here in the desert and there are thousands who are displaced inside Syria waiting for other countries to let them in. We have seen enough humiliation over the past two years.”

According to the refugees, most of the graffiti is created by young men and teenagers, many of whom are living in the camp without any of their relatives.

“These guys are alone. They came on their own without their families or anybody. They do not have anyone to listen to them. What else can they do,” said Um Ali, a Syrian woman from Homs.

The graffiti also speaks of refugees feeling “trapped” in the camp, where many have complained and even rioted over inadequate services and harsh living conditions. 

“We did not do anything wrong to deserve this. The conditions here are so bad and they seem only to get worse. When we called for freedom and liberation in Syria, we did not know that we would end up in a place like this,” said a Syrian boy sitting in a tent with graffiti reading: “We said ‘freedom’, we did not commit blasphemy!”

The names of Syrian towns, cities and tribes appear on some tents, expressing people’s “pride” and “longing” for their country and loved ones they left behind. 

Yet alongside sentiments of fear and anger, the camp graffiti also expresses hope of return in slogans like: “We are refugees, but we are coming back one day,” and “We will go back, dear home.”