Interviewees in Jordan's poor neighborhoods describe scrounging for assistance: traveling around the city and waiting in long lines to register with charities or the UN, or to pick up occasional food packages, or gifts of furniture. For those who sneaked out of the camp, accessing even the most basic services seems impossible, because they lack proper identification.
"I always encourage people in Za'atari not to leave the camp," says Massara Srass, head of the Syrian Women's Organization, which provides assistance to refugees in Amman. "The problems you will face outside of Za'atari are bigger than in Za'atari."
There are lots of ways out of Za'atari. Some 6,000 refugees have voluntarily returned to Syria. For some others, the government employs a system of kefala, or sponsorship: Syrians who can find a Jordanian citizen to vouch for their whereabouts and welfare can leave the camp. They call it being "bailed out."
But kefala, government and UN sources say, is reserved for refugees with humanitarian issues like illness, or those with relatives in Jordan. Since the camp opened, roughly 6,000 people have been bailed out, according to the government's spokesman for Syrian refugee affairs, Anmar Hmoud.
But in the camp, stories abound that kefala can be bought, for prices ranging from $70 to $1,400. Officials say that's not so.
"What's happening now: Some Jordanians, and most of them are criminals ... try to convince the Syrians, if they give them 500, 1,000 [Jordanian] dinars, they can bring them out of the camp in a legal way," says police department spokesman Mohammed al-Khatib.
Refugees described different ways of sneaking out of the camp: Some paid visiting workers to help them escape; others simply slipped around the fence at moments when security was lax. Most are fully aware they've gamed the system, but others seem to actually believe they've been let out legally. One woman said she had bought a kefala from a taxi driver at the entrance to one of the transit camps – but the document she produced was a photocopy of a blank kefala form, which did not have the name of a sponsor on it.