Kerry visits Syrian refugee camp in Jordan

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By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press

ZAATARI, Jordan (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday visited a camp for Syrian refugees displaced by the fighting in their country, hearing first-hand accounts from Syrians who have fled what the U.N. says is the worst humanitarian crisis in decades.

Kerry, in Jordan on his sixth trip to the Middle East as secretary of state, flew Thursday to the Zaatari camp north of Amman, just south of the Syrian border. He was accompanied by Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.

Kerry met with six camp residents: four women and a man from Daraa, the Syrian city closest to Zaatari, and one woman from Homs.

The camp houses about 105,000 people, making it the fourth largest city in Jordan, which is now home to more than 600,000 Syrian refugees and is struggling to cope with their presence. Turkey and Lebanon are also hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees.

The Zaatari camp was set up in July 2012. At the high point in April, an average of 1,500 people arrived each day. The current population is down from a high of nearly 130,000 because some people are leaving — some to go back to join the fight, some to tend to properties in areas that are relatively safe and some into Jordan proper if they can prove they have relatives already there.

But people are still arriving, although in much smaller numbers than before; most Syrians who lived closest to the border are already in Jordan and the new arrivals are coming from farther away. One hundred arrivals Wednesday night had spent 17 days on the road coming from the Homs area, about 200 miles away. The start of Ramadan may also play a role in the reduced influx of refugees.

Their stories are getting worse, according to Killian Kleinschmidt, the camp manager for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

"The conflict has reached a level of brutality that is unbelievable," he told Kerry, who asked questions about the camp's administration, security and living conditions.

Kleinschmidt said every family can tell stories of rape, torture, arrest and disappearances. Children draw "horrible pictures of destruction," he said. Of the total camp population, 60,000 are children and there are 10-12 births a day.

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