Kleinschmidt is German and he was brought in by the UNHCR to try to get some control over the chaos at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan which houses 116,000, plus or minus, Syrians every day.
Local mafia controls a Jordanian camp housing over 100,000 war refugees from Syria. A German aid worker competing with these criminals is determined to preserve the camp residents’ dignity.
Kilian Kleinschmidt walks into the camp armed with a 6-inch stainless steel hook. “I hate refugee camps,” he says. He is holding the hook in his hand like a dagger.
It is getting dark, and a military policeman tells Kleinschmidt that under no circumstances should he go into the camp at night. Kleinschmidt walks through the gate in silence.
The Zaatari Camp houses 116,000 refugees who fled to Jordan from the war in Syria. They live in trailers and tents with the letters UNHCR imprinted on them in blue. The UNHCR, or United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, is Kleinschmidt’s employer. The refugees arrive in buses from the border in this stretch of desert in northern Jordan, and their numbers are growing by the day. The local Bedouins say that before the refugees came, the only resident of this desert was the devil. Not even scorpions lived there.
Kleinschmidt’s job is to ensure that the refugees survive in the Zaatari Camp. He wants to give them back their dignity, and he is supposed to create order in the camp. Kleinschmidt is German. A German can restore order — at least that’s the gist of the plan.
The refugees receive water, food, shelter, toilets and warm blankets for the night. They could be satisfied. Instead, they stormed a trailer where detergent was being distributed, and broke an aid worker’s foot with a rock. Kleinschmidt was caught in the middle of a battle between the military
police and refugees, and his throat still hurts from the tear gas. Refugees also pulled a police officer from his obstacle-clearing tank and beat him on the head with a rock.
Every day, four buses stop at the camp to collect people who want to travel back to Syria. The refugees stand in line in the morning, and when the buses arrive, they fight over seats, because they would rather live in a war zone than in Zaatari. For Kleinschmidt, the camp is a place where the devil still lives today. [We reported on the numbers leaving Zaatari and returning to Syria, here, just a few days ago.—ed]
Der Spiegel lists, with some cynicism, the aid agencies operating at Zaatari, describing how they put on a show for high power visitors. Check out the article for the list that includes our very own International Rescue Committee (one of the nine top federal refugee contractors) soon to be headed by former British Labor Party leader David Milliband.
He doesn’t know how many aid workers are in the camp. According to a list on the UNHCR website, 139 organizations are helping the people in Zaatari. Doctors Without Borders is there, and so are Electricians Without Borders and Gynecologists Without Borders. Clowns Without Borders, which performs in crisis zones to cheer people up, has already left.
Private donors from Saudi Arabia brought in several hundred residential trailers without discussing it with Kleinschmidt or his team first. South Korea spent $20,000 (15,300) on a soccer field that no one uses. There is a Dutch guitar group, although Kleinschmidt has no idea what they are doing there. And the Korean ambassador in Jordan plans to offer Taekwondo lessons for the children in Zaatari soon.
Most difficult refugees he has ever seen. Ungrateful too!
It stands to reason that there is little in the realm of the living or the dead that could still shock Kleinschmidt, but
the camp in Zaatari has done it. “These are the most difficult refugees I’ve ever seen,” he says.
Why does he think that, asks the reporter. Kleinschmidt:
First: These people come from a country where the elite are their enemies. Now they have fought for their freedom and don’t want the next set of elites to tell them how many lentils they are allowed to eat. Second: Many refugees believe that the international community owes them something, because it isn’t stopping the killing in Syria. Third: The mafia.
So, who are the “mafia?” Men like Abu Hussein (watch for him to turn up in your city someday as a resettled refugee whose resettlement contractor is the IRC!). Please read the whole description of Hussein and this exchange, I’ve only snipped a bit of it.
Hussein lives in a trailer that cost $3,000. The air-conditioner runs with electricity he is tapping from the Italian hospital. The water for his tea is from canisters provided by UNICEF. He hasn’t worked, paid or thanked anyone for any of it.
The reported asked Hussein: What is his assessment of the work by the aid organizations?
Hussein takes a few drags from his cigarette and then inhales deeply, as if he were about to go diving. Then he slams his fist on the carpet, so hard that the coffee pot shakes. He begins to shout. “I went to the World Food Programme and said that I wanted a piece of cheese. They told me that someone in Geneva had to make that decision. I wonder who is sitting in Geneva deciding whether I can eat a piece of cheese?”
He continues to shout for half an hour, talking about corruption and Jews and cheese. He complains about the fact that some of the male aid workers have ponytails. Finally, he shouts that Mister Kilian is the only halfway decent one of the lot.
And, then just when you think Kleinschmidt is maybe tough enough and skilled enough to keep the place from burning down, he is quoted as saying something dumb, or, come to think of it, perhaps it is incredibly revealing about himself and the mindset of “humanitarian” aid workers generally.
When asked why he became an aid worker, Kleinschmidt responds: “If we know that we are doing good, we find it easier to love ourselves.”
I have no objection to using refugees for personal psycho-therapy as long as it’s all being done in the deserts of the Middle East and not in our towns and cities!
Readers, I have no category yet for Syrian refugees but it looks like I’ll have to start one. In the meantime, type ‘Syrian refugees’ into our search function and you will get everything we’ve written so far.
Photo: The photo is from this piece at the NYT on Kleinschmidt in May.