How UNHCR is helping Syrian refugees living in Amman

We all met at Vienna Airport to start the exciting journey to Jordan. We were supposed to depart at 10:20 AM. Shortly after boarding the captain told us that we had to postpone the start due to technical issues. After this shocking message and almost two hours later, we finally got up in the air.

At the airport of Amman, we got a warm welcome from Jerome of UNHCR and the driver, who were already waiting for us. We were impressed about the modern and western style of the airport and then were overwhelmed due to the heat (approximately 40°C), while getting into our car. On the way to the hotel we drove by the IKEA store of Amman. We really loved seeing “IKEA” in Arabic letters on the walls of the “blue box”.

We arrived at our accommodation and the host directly invited us to a get-together with drinks and finger food.

IWitness Day 2 2017/07/04
We started our day in UNHCR headquarters. We got an introduction about the operations of UNHCR in Jordan from Stefano Severe, UNHCR Country Representative. After that we learned about the cash assistance. UNHCR works with a vulnerability assessment framework to identify the refugees who are in need the most. Once they have identified the refugees who should get the money from the donors, the refugees have access to money without cards, ID, or bank accounts, just with using iris scanning technology.

We visited the biggest registration centre in the whole of the Middle East. The centre is independently operated by UNHCR Jordan, without support from the Jordanian government. It is located in the eastern part of the city where the density of the refugees in the urban areas is the highest.

Visit of UNHCR Registration Center in Amman, waiting area refugees/playground for kids – by Philipp Knöbl

After passing three levels of security checks, we were welcomed by the responsible officers. We were invited to see the whole journey of registration. During a normal day, not less than 3,000 refugees are registered here and, in a peak period like summer, 5,000-7,000 refugees are registered between 8.00am and 4.00pm.

The whole registration centre is staffed by 70 local co-workers covering all functions, including interviewers, security officers, call centre agents, child carers and many more. We were impressed by the high level of engagement and helpfulness of the UNHCR team. In the waiting areas we felt a mixture of moods. Some people tried to express thankfulness for help provided; some were irritated by our presence.

Waiting area by the centre – by Philipp Knöbl

In one of the interview rooms we met a Syrian family from Damascus who were going through the annual refresh of their registration. UNHCR showed us how they use the iris scanning process.

Iris scan – by Philipp Knöbl

After a light lunch in the cafeteria, with special local food, we started with the home visits.

First home visit – by Philipp Knöbl

We drove to an industrial area of the city and entered an old building where a big Syrian family lives; father Hussein, mother Maha and their nine children. This family is receiving cash support from UNHCR and has lived in Amman since 2011. They escaped war to face poverty but are grateful that at least they are safe. Five children attend public school and the school bus costs 75 Jordanian Dinar per month. The oldest son showed us proudly his school report. He loves English and doing sport in school. It was great to see how all of siblings are taking care of each other and even the youngest, a baby.

Children playing in the shelter – by Philipp Knöbl
Sister helping out – by Philipp Knöbl

After that we drove to the second family. They welcomed us into their home, which was completely different from the first one. Mother, father and seven children live in a house with three rooms and a kitchen. The house is located in a quieter area and is in a much better condition than the apartment of the first family. In contrast to the first family, the second does not receive any support from UNHCR yet, because they are still on the waiting list. This is the reason why the father has had to borrow a large amount of money from relatives and friends to get by.

Second family home visit – by Philipp Knöbl

The family told us their story about leaving the suburbs of Aleppo in 2011. Back then, they were living a peaceful life on their little farm, where they cultivated their own vegetables and grains. Their biggest wish is to see their country back in stability and safety and one day to be able to go back to where their roots are.

Photo made by Philipp Knöbl

An interesting aspect is the different experiences of both families on how they are treated by the locals. Some Jordanians are helpful, for example by allowing more time to pay the rent or lending money, while others won’t even greet the refugees.

We left with mixed feelings and drove to our hotel, where we had a short break to refresh, before leaving for IKEA Amman. There we met Carsten, the Store Manager, who invited us to a common dinner at the IKEA restaurant before showing us his store.

Tired and exhausted from the heat and with a lot of new impressions, we finished the day with brainstorming and writing our blog post on the roof terrace of our hotel, while enjoying the view over Amman by night and the taste of fresh sweet dates.