Transcript: Solving the Syrian refugee crisis

TRANS Transcript: Syrian refugee crisis

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CHRIS BATH: Stand by to stand up and be just a little proud about a bloke from Wagga Wagga who has taken on the toughest job in the world. His name is Andrew Harper and he gets things done, big things, like building giant cities in the desert the likes of which the world has never seen. He does it because the lives of hundreds of thousands of men, woman and children fleeing Syria depend on it.

STEVE PENNELLS: The journey here has been months in the making. I've come to a beautiful land on a dangerous border to meet the Australian who is changing the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Andrew, who have we got here?

ANDREW HARPER: Several hundred Syrians. Um, as you can see, probably the vast majority are women and a lot of children.

STEVE PENNELLS: This is where Andrew Harper's job begins - a mound of dirt, a step to freedom. This is it, isn't it? These mounds are their final steps.

ANDREW HARPER: Yep, and now they're safe. That's where your responsibility starts and doesn't really end. It's incredible, I mean, look at that guy there. People do not leave their homes if they have a choice.

STEVE PENNELLS: How does it effect you? It's got to effect you because if you've got kids or... I mean, some of these girls are the age of your daughters.

ANDREW HARPER: Yeah, like, a lot of them are.

STEVE PENNELLS: Behind them is Syria... (CRIES) ..where a brutal civil war has killed more than 150,000 men, women and children... So young. It's incredible. ..and created this. (CRIES) There are just so many kids here. About one in five of these people are under five years old, crossing the border. It's OK, it's OK.

ANDREW HARPER: How many husbands or fathers do you see?

STEVE PENNELLS: You're right, it's all women and children. How many people have we seen come over today?

ANDREW HARPER: Maybe around 500, 600. Yeah. We've had, like, 200,000/300,000 in the last 8 months. It's hard to believe what they've gone through, you know. It's taken them months to get here.

STEVE PENNELLS: They've been shot at, bombed, um, it's just unbelievable to think what these kids have gone through. I was with you at the border and I saw the way you were with the kids, and I thought, "This guy's not faking it." It really does affect you, doesn't it?

ANDREW HARPER: Yeah, yeah. It does, particularly when you're seeing women who are fairly conservative, they come from a fairly conservative background and you're wondering, "OK, will they actually give you the child to hold to help?" And it was like, "Quick, take the child! "I've had to deal with this child for the last three months "without any help, "um, like, take them."

STEVE PENNELLS: On this day at this spot, about 500 people came across. They've walked for days, crossed a desert to escape bombs, bullets brutality.

ANDREW HARPER: So it's a 4-month-old baby, girl.

STEVE PENNELLS: They're tired, thirsty, sick. Here I begin to understand the enormity of Andrew's role.

ANDREW HARPER: How do you find her mother? Who looks after her... or her... or him? So it's a pretty heartbreaking situation but at the same time, um, it's... We can deal. Um, a young girl. I don't know who she belongs to. Um, I just found her walking alone over the no man's land.

STEVE PENNELLS: And waiting in no man's land is an exceptional man. Andrew is building cities in the desert, rebuilding lives out of the dust.

ANDREW HARPER: If you're dedicated to achieving a result, you do almost anything.

STEVE PENNELLS: Andrew's task is on a scale not seen since WWII, and it came about by accident. He'd just been posted to Jordan, working for the UN. Jordan was not supposed to be as much work as what it currently is. So what happened?


STEVE PENNELLS: A trickle of people became a flood. What started with a few tents on a patch of desert has turned into this. This is the heart of the camp, the CBD if you like. I'm at the intersection of the two main streets that they call Fifth Avenue and the Champs-Elysees. And just look what's here - there's food, phones, fridges, there's a barber's shop, a bridal shop, and back there, even a Mister Whippy. And all this life has sprung up in this extraordinary city made possible by one man from Wagga Wagga.

STEVE PENNELLS: Your son is literally saving tens of thousands of lives over there.

ENID: I know, mm. I am proud of him.


Ah, extremely proud.

STEVE PENNELLS: Enid is Andrew's mum. If he had taken another path, her little boy might have been a cricketer.

ENID: And that's Mark Taylor. No, that's Andrew. That's Mark Taylor, next to him.

STEVE PENNELLS: His childhood mate became an Australian captain.

STEVE PENNELLS: Did he like riding horses?

ENID: Um, not really, no!

STEVE PENNELLS: Andrew was a cheeky cowboy with red hair growing up in the red dust of the country New South Wales, but rains turned Wagga Wagga green the day we came to see Mum. How often do you talk to him?

ENID: Oh, he usually rings every week. He's a bit slack with his sisters! They get a bit cranky with him because he doesn't always ring them, but he keeps in touch with me fairly well. Yes, he's really good.

STEVE PENNELLS: Days later, I was in Jordan with her son. We were close to the Syrian border under military protection. Below, we were approaching a place they call Zaatari. It's amazing... Above, a humble bloke who refuses to take credit for something magnificent - a safe haven, the biggest in history. You're the man who made this happen.

ANDREW HARPER: It's like, yeah, I'm one of many. (LAUGHS)

STEVE PENNELLS: Below us, the war is close. Millions are on the move because of this. (SINGS) (EXPLOSION) You've got whole parts of cities in Syria which are just being completely levelled and just the animosity now which is running between the various groups.

ANDREW HARPER: This could take a long time to resolve. Zaatari is not what you'd expect. It's a vibrant community. It is a community which is providing protection, it's providing dignity, it's providing people with a hope for the future.

STEVE PENNELLS: Roast chooks, video arcades, frock shops... We have every...thing. I love this.

ANDREW HARPER: In a refugee camp, when you've got slushies.


ANDREW HARPER: Do you want one?

STEVE PENNELLS: I'd love one.

ANDREW HARPER: OK. You've gotta pay for it. (LAUGHS)

STEVE PENNELLS: 107,000 Syrians now call Zaatari home and it keeps growing.....every day, in fact about a dozen times a day.

She's 3 hours old and the 907th child born in Zaatari. And the baby is not Jordanian but it's not Syrian.

NURSE: Between. Between.

STEVE PENNELLS: What do they call it, anything?

NURSE: Zaatari. Zaatari.

STEVE PENNELLS: When is Andrew happiest?

ERICA HARPER: Around...around the girls, yeah. There's a very, very special bond with him and his daughters. That's when he's really happy.

STEVE PENNELLS: Andrew, his wife Erica and three daughters life in Amman, Jordan's capital. They love a barbecue and go Easter egg hunting in some of the oldest places on earth. Erica, who's from Port Macquarie, is currently advisor to the Crown Prince of Jordan. For people in Australia, what does Andrew... I mean, who is he in Jordan? Who is Andrew in Jordan?

ERICA HARPER: Well put it this way - the papers, they now don't need to say, "Andrew Harper, representative of UNHCR." They just say, "Harper" and everybody knows who it is!

STEVE PENNELLS: Andrew and the Jordanians work hand-in-hand. When I first met him 10 months ago he introduced me to a good mate, Anmar Hamoud. He was Jordan's top advisor on refugees.

These are the last pictures of him. Anmar and Andrew drove off a few minutes ahead of us. The first I knew something had happened was when a man staggered into the road in front of us and I could see he was covered in blood. Andrew's car had blown a tyre and rolled at high speed. It ended up right here.

STEVE PENNELLS: Andrew was injured but managed to crawl out of the wreckage. The diplomat, his good friend and strongest supporter, was dead. Did it make you rethink what you're doing?

ANDREW HARPER: Absolutely not. It's something which occurs, um, it's one of the risks we take in this job.

STEVE PENNELLS: In fact, Andrew's job has only just begun. With Zaatari busting at the seams, he and his team are building an even bigger camp.

ANDREW HARPER: Just in the last 12 months we've had something like 400,000 people come across. We expect another 200,000 before the end of the year and then who can predict what's going to come in 2015.

STEVE PENNELLS: It's called Azraq - 100km of road and room for 130,000 people. Life out here is gonna be pretty tough. It's windswept. The ground - bone dry. In summer it's searing hot. In winter, pretty bloody cold but for tens of thousands of people, none of that will matter because it's safe. And for those who make it here, this will be their home for a long, long time. Over 600,000 Syrian refugees... Word of his work has spread far and wide... 130,000 people... ..but the praise that means the most is all home-grown.

ENID: This is your mum in Wagga getting very emotional. I can't believe the little boy that I brought up (VOICE BREAKS UP) is doing so much help people over there.

STEVE PENNELLS: Despite all that he's built, nothing would make Andrew happier than seeing it all disappear - the day the war ends, the day the camps close, the day everyone can go home. How do you feel about refugees?

ANDREW HARPER: Oh, it's something which is obviously passion, it's a lifelong passion. It's no use complaining about anything because you've the responsibility to be able to make a difference. Thank you very much, General.

STEVE PENNELLS: So who's Andrew Harper then - the bloke in the business suit next to the Foreign Minister, the bloke in the boots walking through the Champs-Elysees at Zaatari, where are you happiest?

ANDREW HARPER: Um, probably at the border. At the border? Yeah.

STEVE PENNELLS: When the people cross it?

ANDREW HARPER: Yeah. But also being with the Jordanians, um, sort of like where there's no excuses.