The process starts in large sheds, the first stop after their border pick-up, where they can eat and sleep before they start moving through the queue that weaves through another building.
Finally they end up on wooden benches between portable buildings, waiting their turn. Each section is separated from the others by heavy gates and security guards.
Everybody here has a reason why they left, had a moment when they knew they could not stay in their homes or their country.
For Antar, the moment came when his house was hit with an artillery shell. His four children were playing in the back yard, and his eldest son Mohammad, 12, was hit in the stomach by shrapnel. His 11-year-old daughter Ala’a was hit in the chest.
He was too scared to take them to a Syrian hospital in case they weren’t allowed to leave, so he found a field hospital run by an NGO instead. Mohammad was there for six days, Ala’a for three.
When Mohammad was released the whole family – Antar and his wife, Mohammad, Ala’a, and their brothers Taleb, 10, and Zakaria, 4 – set out walking towards Jordan.
They have been in Za’atari for almost three months, living in tents with just a few clothes and some bedding. Antar is desperate to exchange the tent for a caravan – the wind howls through Za’atari, regularly whipping up sandstorms – but the camp hasn’t received any in weeks. Only Ala’a is still in school. Mohammad wants to be a doctor, but without an education that dream is futile.
No one in Za’atari wants their children to be here, but when bombs are hitting children playing in their yards it is just the least bad place to be.
How you can help
Your support for the Syrian Refugee Crisis Appeal will enable World Vision to help children and their families affected by this conflict. Donate today to help families gain access to food, blankets, warm clothing, fuel and personal hygiene items.
This article was originally published on 14 August 2013.