1. Famed author Neil Gaiman travelled to Jordan last week to meet Syrian refugees who had fled across the border.
2. He went to see the UN Refugee Agency’s frontline work and spoke with some of the people who had managed to escape the brutal civil war in Syria and reach the recently opened Azraq refugee camp.
3. Gaiman spoke with five cousins and brothers who had just reached the camp, saying, “Their tale was harrowing.”
4. “They essentially got to the point where there was no food, they didn’t dare go out of their houses, they couldn’t earn money,” he said of the family’s dire situation in Syria.
5. The British author added:
Eventually it got to the point where their local sheikhs had made it OK to eat cats and the livers of dogs, to be fed to kids because there was no meat.
[There were] no clean animals left, so unclean animals were OK.
They were eating grass, they were making soups out of grass, of leaves from trees, of anything they could find to try and keep themselves alive and their kids alive and finally they couldn’t take it anymore.
6. Gaiman said the group told him they had sold whatever they had and walked for days to reach safety.
Some said their shoes were so worn down from travelling across the desert they ended up walking on bare foot.
7. Another group of 18 people behind them were all killed, and others came across “the hacked up bodies of adults and children”.
8. “The people who we talked to had heartbreaking stories, but what was more heartbreaking was realising that every single one of the people in that camp had stories just as heartbreaking,” Gaiman added.
Azraq has the capacity to hold 130,000 refugees, with around 4,000 people currently living in the temporary accommodation.
The camp is expected to fill up quickly with people fleeing Syria at a rate of three every minute and will soon take on a life and character of its own.
9. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) distributes core relief items to all the newly arrived refugees including mattresses, cooking equipment, solar lamps (there’s no electricity in Azraq), sleeping mats, jerry cans and stoves.
Early every morning the refugees are also given bread and every 15 days they receive cash vouchers to redeem at a supermarket in the camp.
10. During his visit, Gaiman met a refugee named Abu Salah (not his real name) and his extended family, who arrived at the camp at 4 a.m.
They were relieved to have escaped the Syrian civil war and now be safe, but also realised how much they had lost when they opened the empty white container they would be calling home for years to come.
11. Gaiman is working with the UNHCR — along with co-founder and designer of fashion house Marchesa, Georgina Chapman — on a storytelling project highlighting the Syrian refugee crisis.
You can find out more about the mission on the UNHCR’s website.