As a dusty wind blows across the arid Jordanian desert 50 miles south of the Syrian border, row upon row of white metal houses in neat lines emerge from the haze. Women dressed in black hijabs, some with niqab veils, carry water from shared taps or shopping from the few stores back to their new homes.

Azraq camp houses 35,000 refugees out of some 1.3 million who have fled into Jordan from the brutal six-year civil war that is consuming Syria.

For Jordan, long a beacon of stability in a troubled region, the refugees pose huge challenges, not least economic. The government estimate the cost of refugees is some eight per cent of the country’s GDP with the international community covering less than six per cent of the total spend.

Large numbers of the refugees have settled in some of Jordan’s poorest neighbourhoods in cramped housing with rents tripling since the crisis began. An estimated 140,000 children have enrolled in Jordan’s schools which are already over-crowded.

For Azraq residents, the support of a camp run by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees provides shelter and basic needs but is no panacea. Three fifths of the residents are children and three in 10 families are headed by women.

Each resident gets about £20 per month in electronic tokens to buy food from markets run by residents and local Jordanian people.

But work opportunities are limited to small payments for helping in the camp. Help for refugees in terms of aid and services has increased frustration among the 6.5 million ordinary Jordanian citizens.

The Syrian refugees, more than most, follow the twists and turns of the bitter civil war in their homeland. A staggering total approaching half a million people have been killed out of a population of about 18 million.

The tragic story that is today’s Syria began with the Damascus Spring, a period of hope. Mild-mannered ophthalmologist Bashar Al-Assad with his British-born wife Asma returned from working in a London eye hospital to succeed his father who died in 2000, strongman Hafez Al-Assad. Spring ended swiftly with the arrest of opposition figures.

Just after the Arab Spring revolt against autocratic rule in North Africa and the Middle East began in Tunisia in 2010, the arrest and torture by the Damascus Baathist regime of a boy for writing graffiti triggered the start of a civil war in Syria.

The refugee crisis is the largest since the Second World War.

As Assad and the Alawite Shia regime tighten their grip over the country, backed by Russia and Iran, the future remains uncertain.

Britain’s official position is that it is working towards a democratic Syria and lasting stability for all Syrians. How that can ever be achieved is less obvious.

It seems increasingly clear that any hope of removing Assad or installing a reformed government are delusional. Over the past year, Assad has won a string of military victories in western Syria. Readers interested in a real-time map of regime control may find of interest.

Russia engineered a settlement at a meeting in Astana in Kazakhstan between the regime and several opposition groups based on four de-escalation zones where rebel groups are based. Many analysts believe this is a gift to the Assad regime.

The zones are supposed to observe cease-fires but Damascus, with Iranian backing, has continued attacks when expedient.

Syria’s professional and business communities and various minority groups within the country are backing the regime, not from any great love of the Damascus rulers but because they fear they would suffer under Islamist rule were elements of the opposition to take control.

The best that the West can realistically hope for is some minor compromise from Assad, perhaps a new prime minister, but it defies credibility to expect the vicious regime will offer free elections or anything that threatens its rule.

The West does not want to support Assad with reconstruction support but there is another way.

Britain, the US and others can help the millions of Syrian refugees now living outside the country in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey by helping hard-pressed host governments and removing as far as possible the opportunities to recruit jihadis among the unemployed, angry young men.

For the people of Azrag, the future promises little certainty and difficult conditions for refugees who, despite the harsh rule of the regime, may have had secure, comfortable lives in pre-war Syria.

The desert winter sees temperatures outside the metal shelters drop to seven deg C in contrast to summer’s 27 or 28 degrees. Stress can lead to domestic violence or psychiatric problems.

But the refugees face a dilemma. Stay in camps or eke out a living in urban areas of their host countries or return to a war-devastated Syria and a brutal security state.

It is a choice we in the West are fortunate never to have to make.