Although this IWitness trip is primarily set to visit the refugee camps, we were given a chance to visit some families that had chosen to seek opportunities within Jordanian society. In the camps, the refugees are provided with water, food, healthcare and, although mostly tents, a shelter. Still around 84% of the refugees leave for a number of reasons. Political affiliation, the need for privacy and feeling of security are some examples. And, while a tent provides a shelter to a certain degree, many people feel the need to live in a real house.
We were divided into two groups and each of us got a senior field assistant with the UNHCR to visit a couple of the families who had left Za’atari.
The first family that welcomed us into their home was a young married couple and their five children. My first impression of their apartment was that it was very simple; a small kitchen, a living room that also functions as the main bedroom and an access room they called “the dark room”. The family only had one light bulb providing their whole apartment with light, so the darkest room they use to store clothes and the few extra belongings they own.
Even though there was very little furniture in the apartment, the rooms were full, full of love. I was amazed by the harmony and the peace within the family. This is a family that saw several of their family members get killed just outside their own doorsteps. This is a family that had to flee from their hometown Homs in Syria to the camp of Za’atari in Jordan by foot. Their home was no longer a safe place. The father of the family had no other choice than to take his family far away from the situation threatening his children’s future. “Nothing is more important than my children and their lives. I couldn’t risk their future,” the father told us. And we could all see the passion in his eyes and the parental interest in protecting one’s family.
When the family fled from Syria in July 2013, they only brought a few items each, and the children had to leave all their toys behind. The children’s friends had toys to play with, but refugee parents could not give the same joy to their children—heartbreaking for any parent. The look on their faces when we pulled up gifts donated from our IKEA stores from our bags was amazing! Their faces lit up like it was Christmas Eve! It was very touching to be able to give something we take for granted to someone who appreciated it SO much.
“UNHCR are providing us with so much. We got an apartment we feel safe in, and we get economical help to be able to create a better everyday life. Even though the neighbours are good, when the situation in Syria changes and it becomes safer, we ARE going home. We are going back home.”
The next family originally came out of the northern part of Syria, from a farm near the Turkish border. The father, mother and their six children fled to Jordan in August 2013. They spent three months on the border, after having been displaced within Syria for nearly a year. Their house got bombed in the conflict, and several of the children developed psychological problems due to their memories from this.
When entering Jordan, they were originally put in the Za’atari Camp but left after around three months. The father wanted to find jobs to be able to provide for his family, but when you are trying to get a job without a work-visa and the country is already the home of over 600,000 refugees, finding employment is not easy. Still, the welfare of his children and their chance to attend a normal school makes it worth the hard work.
When we asked the kids what they wanted to be when they grew up, the oldest son, Ibrahim (12), used to want to become a pilot. After seeing with his own eyes bombs getting dropped from aircrafts, his vision of being a pilot has changed. He found a new dream—being an engineer.
But not all of the people having to flee their homes and lives are families with children. We got to meet two elderly couples as well. One was the 85-year-old Mohammed, who had entered Jordan illegally and spent his time begging to be able to pay the 110 Jordanian dinars (€125) per month in rent. What Mohammed wanted most in this world was to be able to travel back to Damascus, where his sons were and his home had been.
The other one was Muna, a 60-year-old widow whose husband was killed. She lost so much: house, family and many friends. While she lives in Jordan with her daughters, her sons are still in Syria looking after the family property. The only wish Muna has left is to return to Syria, to get back to her country of origin, where her sons will have a grave to come to.
The similarities between the elderly people we visited are that the houses they live in consist of a single room with nothing but blankets to keep warm, but with the help of charity and help from local people they get by, and they are currently in the pipeline for receiving financial aid.
Currently there are more than 400 refugees aged 90+ in Jordan. This poses completely different needs and challenges. But in much the same way as the families with children who have their whole lives ahead of them, most of them wish to be able to travel back home, to see their families and live the rest of their lives in their native country.
It has been an emotional and inspiring day. Tomorrow we will have a chance to see what life is within the camps.