TWENTY thousand people finally gained access to electricity yesterday, after the power was turned on at the world’s first green-energy refugee camp.

For two-and-a-half years, Syrians living in the Azraq camp in the deserts of northern Jordan have struggled with a lack of access to electricity, causing security, food storage and sanitation problems.

The lack of lighting left residents fearful when walking to washrooms and toilets at night, prompting safety concerns for women and children.

The lack of power also made cooking and cleaning clothes more difficult and left youngsters unable to read or study at night, affecting their education.

Yesterday, thanks to a partnership with global furniture retailer Ikea, the purpose-built solar plant was switched on the first time, allowing people in 5000 shelters to connect a fridge, TV, fan, light and phone chargers to meet their living needs and stay in contact with relatives Kelly T Clements, deputy high commissioner of the UNHCR refugee agency, said: “Today marks a milestone. Lighting up the camp is not only a symbolic achievement, it provides a safer environment for all camp residents, opens up livelihood opportunities, and gives children the chance to study after dark.

“Above all, it allows all residents of the camps to lead more dignified lives.”

Since Azraq opened in April 2014, those living there have relied on solar lanterns distributed on their arrival, with limited electricity introduced in January for some street lighting. However, the new infrastructure is a marked improvement.

A partnership between UNHCR and the Ikea Foundation, the twomegawatt solar farm is the first of its kind and will cut the costs of running the vital shelter by almost £1.2 million a year and slash carbon emissions by an annual 2,370 tons.

When it reaches its full 5mw capacity, savings will increase and all of the camp’s energy needs will be covered.

The £7.5m development will also benefit the host community in Jordan, where energy costs are high, with an excess power fed into the national grid for free, also contributing to national renewables targets.

All funding has come from the Ikea Foundation, which raised £26.3m for UNHCR through its Brighter Lives for Refugees campaign.

During the push, the home giant donated 85p for every LED lightbulb sold.

Per Heggenes, chief executive of the Ikea Foundation, said: “The world’s first solar farm in a refugee camp signals a paradigm shift in how the humanitarian sector supports displaced populations.

“UNHCR Jordan will save millions of dollars, while reducing carbon emissions and improving living conditions for some of the world’s most vulnerable children and families.

We are very grateful to everyone involved, especially the Ikea customers and co-workers who took part in the Brighter Lives for Refugees campaign, the UNHCR, the Jordanian government, EDCO, and most of all, the Syrian and Jordanian people who made this project a reality.”

More than 50 refugees worked on the construction of the solar facility under the supervision of Amman-based renewables firm Mustakbal, giving them a rare chance to earn an income.

Some of this group will now continue as maintenance workers for the scheme.

Clements said: “Once again the partnership between Ikea Foundation and UNHCR has shown how we can embrace new technologies, innovation and humanity while helping refugees.”