Syria refugees fear long stay as French aid reaches Jordan
ZAATARI REFUGEE CAMP — French military medics started on Sunday to set up a field hospital at Jordan's main camp for Syrian refugees, as residents expressed fear that their stay could turn into a long one.
Refugees gathered to watch 85 French medical officers assemble the hospital of 30 large khaki tents as well as 80 tonnes of medical equipment and aid supplies at the desert camp outside the city of Mafraq in northern Jordan.
"We are all here, officers and civilians, for the same reason: helping Syrian refugees," Colonel Yannick Rio, head of the mission, told AFP.
An Antonov transport aircraft landed in Amman on Saturday with the equipment, in the first consignment of French supplies being flown in for Syrian refugees in Jordan.
"The material has arrived and for the surgical component, which is the core of our mission, we have got all that is needed. We are going to coordinate with international organisations and NGOs to see to the needs of the refugees," said Rio.
"The core of the hospital's mission is war surgery, which means treating those who were injured in the conflict... We are counting on Jordanian authorities to evacuate the injured and bring them here."
Jordan is hosting more than 150,000 Syrian refugees, and many of them came under Syrian army fire as they fled their country into the Kingdom.
"We have implemented a medical and surgical service based essentially on a surgical unit specialised in treating war injuries," chief surgeon Patrick Tirolle told AFP.
"Another part (of the mission) will be operated by general practitioners to offer medical assistance to the camp's residents," said Tirolle, adding that a vaccination centre is being prepared to deal with "any risk of epidemic".
But while welcoming the French initiative, some refugees were concerned the new installations signal a drawn-out stalemate in the Syrian conflict.
"This is a priceless humanitarian work because there are many people here in the camp who need surgical operations and other medical help," Khalil Alkeh, a camp resident from Daraa, a flashpoint in southern Syria, told AFP.
"But I would prefer to see a military action to arm the rebels and help them topple the (Syrian) regime. We are sick of this situation that is taking too long," he said.
The Zaatari camp, opened in July, has so far taken in 6,000 refugees and it can house up to 120,000 people.
"This French assistance is good," said Nawal, a mother of five from Homs, another hotspot in Syria's revolt. "But I am worried because this means our hardship is just starting. This situation could take a long time."
According to Colonel Gerard Dosseh, the head doctor, "26 people (on the French team) have experience in dealing with difficult health situations and catastrophes".
His colleague Patrick Tirolle believes the team's capacity is limited. "We have only one operations room, which can accommodate up to 10 people," but "for pure treatment, there is no limit," he said.
As work was under way to install the tents, a group of children gathered to watch.
"We thought they [the French team] were distributing shoes because yesterday [Saturday] some other people were giving shoes. By the time I arrived, everything was gone," said 11-year-old Muath Abdel Karim, staring at the French soldiers.
"Our shoes were torn off when we ran away from Syria," he added.
The refugees have complained about hot weather, dust and lack of electricity at the Zaatari camp, where average temperatures in the summer are around 40ºC.
Government Spokesperson Samih Maaytah said on Sunday that the tents in Zaatari will soon be replaced by caravans.