Just a few kilometres east of Mafraq, Jordan, the Zaatari refugee camp stretches over five sq km towards the Syrian border. Originally established as a temporary settlement in July 2012 for Syrians fleeing the civil war, Zaatari is now home to an estimated 79,000 people, and has seen over 350,000 refugees pass through.
In November, the film-makers Olly Burton and Alex Blogg of the organisation Recording Earth made a series of short documentaries about Zaatari’s residents, telling their stories and following the narrative of the conflict through music. After recording and speaking to several individuals, Burton and Blogg quickly discovered that almost all of the songs and poems shared a common theme: Syria, and a longing for home.
Recording Earth’s Refugee Music project follows the stories of individuals such as singer Mohamad Isa Almaziodi (above), who left his terminally ill father behind in Syria; poet Raed Al Hussein, who once spent six months in a Syrian prison because of a poem he wrote; and former policeman Ziad Qaem Al Masri, who picked up the rebab after moving to the camp in order to hold on to a small piece of his home country’s tradition.
“The artists really go somewhere else when singing, and when they think about Syria,” Burton says. “When Mohamad started crying, you felt like he was there [with] his dad in Syria. And then it’s as if he suddenly snaps out of it and realises he’s not there – he’s in a caravan in a refugee camp.”
Zaatari refugee camp, home to an estimated 79,000 people.
Zaatari refugee camp, home to an estimated 79,000 people. Photograph: Recording Earth
The songs and poetry of Zaatari’s residents offer a way to cope with life in the camp and their homesickness. Despite the cloud of uncertainty about what the future holds for them and their children, they are doing all they can to hold on to their traditions and memories of home, hoping that one day they’ll be able to return to restore these songs and poems to their native country.