How UNHCR and IKEA Foundation are helping refugees in Jordan build a brighter future

A team of IWitnesses from IKEA Netherlands and IKEA Spain is travelling to Jordan to meet Syrian families and hear their stories. This trip will help the IWitnesses understand the devastating impact that the war has had on refugees’ lives, and also see how they are retaining hope and strength despite the hardships. Joined by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the group will spend three days on an eye-opening journey to witness how the IKEA Foundation has brought light to homes and communities.

The Syrian conflict started in March 2011, as the protests in the wake of the Arab Spring spiralled into civil war. With the conflict reaching its eighth year, the situation for the Syrian population is dire. More than 5 million people have fled Syria, seeking safety in neighbouring countries and beyond, while 6 million more remain internally displaced within the country.

The IWitness team will travel to one of the largest refugee-hosting countries in the world. Jordan hosts the second-largest number of refugees relative to the size of its population, with one refugee for every 11 inhabitants. Within a total refugee population of 758,392 people, almost 90% are Syrian. The remaining 10% are from Iraq, Yemen, Sudan and Somalia, among others, and UNHCR provides assistance to all.

A community comprised of Jordanians and refugees from Syria share their experiences during a community gathering in Amman, Jordan. Over five and a half million Syrians have fled since the onset of armed conflict in 2011 and another six million are displaced inside the country. Over 700,000 refugees are currently in Jordan in search for a better life but yearn for an end to the war for them to be able to return home.

Jordanians have a tradition of opening their arms to those fleeing conflict in the region, but this hospitality and generosity comes at a price. The influx of refugees puts a huge amount of pressure on a country which is already struggling to support its own population.

The role of UNHCR is to co-ordinate the response, in partnership with the Jordanian government, and provide protection and assistance to those who have fled. The UNHCR team will accompany the IWitnesses during their three-day mission, introducing them to the work of UNHCR in Jordan, and to some of the families whose lives have been devastated by conflict and forced displacement.

Eighty per cent of Syrian refugees in Jordan live in urban areas so we will start with a visit to the homes of Syrian families in Amman and Irbid to understand the daily challenges that they face, and discuss with them their hopes and dreams for the future.

Irbid, a town in northern Jordan located less than 40 minutes away from the Syrian border, is the home of Renewable Energy for Refugees, the new innovative project funded by the IKEA Foundation and implemented jointly with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). This will be the first time external visitors have seen the project. NRC and UNHCR will introduce the IWitnesses to the refugees in Irbid, and let the families explain what it means to live without regular access to energy in a town that has harsh and foggy winters with very cold temperatures, and how the energy project funded by the IKEA Foundation is critical to improving their quality of life.

The last day will be spent visiting Azraq camp to understand how refugee camps are run and how the teams working in them tackle major challenges—such as access to energy—and find solutions to help the camps’ residents. Azraq Camp is home to over 35,000 refugees, as well as to first solar plant ever built in a refugee camp. The solar plant was constructed in 2017 thanks to the support of the IKEA Foundation and the Brighter Lives for Refugees campaign, and has been life-changing for a population that lived for two and half years without regular electricity. The IWitness group will have the chance to visit the solar plant and will also be the first external visitors to see its newly constructed extension, thanks to which 55% of the camp’s electricity needs will now be met through renewable energy.

We will visit one of the Azraq markets to see the difference that electricity has made in refugee businesses, and we will meet families in their shelters and speak to them about their reasons for fleeing, how they are coping with life and how they see their families’ futures.

Staying late into the evening, the day will end with a view from a high point to witness the solar streetlights slowly lighting up and bringing life to this remote camp after darkness falls.

Our goal is to spend as much time with Syrian families as possible. We will hear, in their words, the struggles they are facing but also see the triumph of the human spirit in times of hardship. The projects funded by the IKEA Foundation have had a great positive impact on the lives of those whom UNHCR helps here in Jordan. It has brought light to families in one of the world’s most difficult environments, allowing them to lead more dignified lives and giving them a sense of home in exile.

    Nida Yassin