Zaatari residents turn to bicycles amid transportation difficulties

By Mohammed Ghazal in Amman

Syrian refugees ride bicycles inside Jordan's sprawling Zaatari camp. [Mohammad Ghazal/Al-Mashareq]

Syrian refugees ride bicycles inside Jordan's sprawling Zaatari camp. [Mohammad Ghazal/Al-Mashareq]

In the absence of regular and affordable transportation, many Syrian refugees in Jordan's sprawling Zaatari camp have been using bicycles to get around.

Camp residents told Al-Mashareq that bicycles are the best way to move around, as they can be used to take children to schools or clinics, to run errands or transport goods to and from the markets.

Zaatari encompasses approximately 5.2 square kilometres of desert terrain near the Jordanian border with Syria and accommodates around 80,000 refugees.

According to Abdullah al-Daraawi, who lives at Zaatari with his wife and four children, taxis operate within the camp, but are not always available or affordable.

He has had to take his wife and children to the hospital on foot on more than one occasion, he told Al-Mashareq, noting that there is no transportation available in the camp after midnight.

“The cost of hiring a car in the camp is at least two dinars ($2.80), which is unaffordable since most of the refugees rely on aid, even those who work inside the camp for minimal wages," said al-Daraawi, who works as a cleaner for an international aid agency.

But for many residents of the camp, getting their hands on a bicycle is no easy feat, as prices range between 80 and 150 Jordanian dinars ($113 to $211).

Al-Daraawi said he makes around 150 dinars ($113) a month, and managed to purchase his bicycle for 100 dinars ($141) after several months of saving.

Zaatari resident and father of five Mahmoud Zaabi said he paid 120 dinars ($169) for his bicycle after saving up for five months.

"It helps me to take my children to school, to the hospital or clinic," he said.

Zaabi told Al-Mashareq he uses his bike to transport water from the main camp reservoirs to his temporary housing unit, and sometimes transports water for others or helps them to move around the camp in return for a small fee.

Getting around the camp, which often records extreme temperatures, is quite difficult, particularly for the elderly, he said, as there are long distances between some parts of the camp, which can take half an hour or more on foot.

Samer Yahya, who works at a bicycle repair shop in Zaatari, told Al-Mashareq there is high demand among refugees of all ages for bicycles.

Several bicycle maintenance and repair shops have sprung up around the camp, he noted, adding that some shops also offer bikes for hire.

“Four years ago there was only a small number of bicycles and there was not much profit to go around, but now bicycles have become ubiquitous and business has picked up," he said.

“People need to move around easily, and this is the cheapest means of transportation in the camp," he added. "Life here is very difficult and bicycles help solve problems."

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