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Syrian Voices

Refugees in Jordan share their stories

Story by United Nations Development Programme February 4th, 2016

UNDP focuses on resilience and livelihoods in its work on behalf of the most vulnerable in Syria and in neighbouring countries struggling to cope with the impacts of the Syrian crisis. Meet some of the Syrian refugees living in Jordan who are raising their voices to tell the world what is happening in Syria, and why they decided to flee their country. Here are their stories.

Sfook Ali Alhelal

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Amman, Jordan - Sfook Ali Alhelal sits with his children and Fatima Husein Al Sarout, one of his two wives . The family fled from Syria in March 2013 because of the increased intensity of the bombings. They sold their land and farm near Homs, where they grew vegetables, and fled to Jordan to keep the children safe. Now they have nothing left. They first stayed in the Zaatari refugee camp, but left shortly after to live in Amman because their children were getting sick all the time from the dirty water, and were developing respiratory problems from the dust in the camp. They live in a small rented house in Amman, and because Sfook has no identification papers and cannot work, they struggle to pay the rent and make a decent living. In fact, they haven’t been able to pay rent for the past two months. Sfook fears he and his family will be kicked out, and will have to return to Zaatari and live in a tent.

mustafa & huda al mahamid

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Karak, Jordan - Mustafa (74) came to Jordan with his daughter Huda (21) at the beginning of the Syrian crisis. “I married my daughter to a local man (Jordanian) named Sarayre. I gave him my daughter without getting anything in return. He beats me, he beats my daughter, only God can help.” This is the second day they have been away from her abusive husband. A Syrian family has taken them in and are treating them well, yet Huda stills feels like a burden. All she wants is to finalize the separation process with her husband, get a job and find a home to take care of her father.

“When I came here (Jordan) I worked in a store selling clothes. Then I got married, and the problems started. He beat my father, he attacks and beat me.” Huda studied until the ninth grade, and then stayed home to take care of her blind mother, but when the war started, she went to Jordan with her father to be safe. “I hope that all can return to their country and that there will be peace. Thank you to all the Syrians and people in other countries that have helped us. We are very grateful, and I hope the best for my country. That's all I can say.”

Meirvat al zubi

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Meirvat (40) has four girls. She used to work in a big bank in Daraa, where her mother and brother have stayed behind. Her husband worked with computer technology. She left Syria to get her four daughters (15, 12, 8 and 5) to safety, as she and her husband feared it was only a matter of time before they too would end up raped or killed. Just a week ago, she found out that she is pregnant again. She has a hard time recalling good memories from her life in Syria before the war. Only the bad things have stuck in her mind. She has slept badly these past two weeks, because of the invasive thoughts she’s having about life during the war, and she can’t stop worrying about their current situation, especially with a new baby on the way. Life is hard because they are not allowed to work here in Jordan and struggle with being so helpless and having to depend on the help of others to survive. In the past, before the war, they provided well for their family.

mohammed faouri

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Amman, Jordan - Mohammed came to Jordan with his wife and two daughters because of the war and the bombings. His brother was shot at a protest. He misses his family and friends back in Syria, and the friends he lost during in the war.

helal jawaher

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Mafraq, Jordan - “Before the war, our life was beautiful.” What Helal (40) remembers from the war in Syria, are the killings and the destruction. She fled to Jordan with her husband and their eight children after two of her sons were beaten up. She witnessed killings in front of her house. Now they are in safety in Mafraq, a city in northern Jordan not far from the Syrian border, and only 10 km from the Zaatari Refugee camp, where more than 80,000 Syrian refugees live. Helal’s 16-year-old son ran away from home. He missed Syria and is staying with his aunt. She worries about him but is in touch with him. Her children have received some Lego blocks from a local NGO, and Zeina (12) and Abed (6) have built a toy army “to go back to Syria and fight”. She believes that her children with these toys can remember their country and learn to deal with the situation.

Muamena, abir & iman

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Amman, Jordan - From left to right: Muamena, Abir and Iman. The three Syrian women choose to tell their story but without revealing their faces for fear of repercussions for their family members who are still in Syria.

Muamena (43): “They must help us in Syria.” Muamena comes from Daraa, where she was a housewife. All she remembers is the war, the destroyed buildings, and people being killed in the streets. She misses her country and her two daughters (both married) who are still in Syria and can’t leave the country. Her sons are with her here in Jordan.

Abir (30) wants to remain anonymous because her husband is still in Syria fighting. He had been captured and put in jail where they broke his arms and legs. They took him to hospital in handcuffs. While he was in prison, she gave birth to their son, who is now two years old. She also has a seven-year-old daughter. Both children are with her in Jordan. She is still in contact with her husband through Facebook.

Iman did not want to be interviewed, only have her photograph taken. “My story is similar to the others,” she said.

khaled abdo al zarifi

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Amman, Jordan - Khaled (36) comes from Homs in Syria, where he used to work as a salesman in the market. He came to Jordan in the summer of 2013 to bring his family to safety. What he remembers from Syria are the hard days, and what he misses the most is living there in peace with his family.

hamzah rasheed alarjah

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Karak, Jordan - Hamzah (27) used to work as a cook in a restaurant in Homs. He fled to Jordan in 2012 with his wife and daughters. They left because of the bombings, fearing that one day one of the bombs would hit their building. He hopes to one day be able to go back to Syria and to his work.

Aisha

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Lebanon - Aisha (not her real name) is a refugee, for the second time. Her grandparents fled Palestine in 1947. She and her parents were all born in Syria and lived in “Al Sabina”, a Palestinian refugee camp in the countryside outside of Damascus. If they had few rights there, they have even less now living in Lebanon, she says. She gave her interview in English, because she studied English literature at university back in Syria. Aisha misses her friends, her house, her fellow students and all the things she lost. She dreams of finishing her university studies and getting her degree. When she was in her third year in college, she got married. At the time, the war in Syria was in the initial phase. Against his promise, her husband didn’t allow her to pursue her studies. He became abusive. She cannot divorce him for the moment, because she fled with her family to Lebanon, and he stayed behind. She now lives in an overcrowded refugee camp in Lebanon, where she describes the living conditions to be far worse than in the camp she left in Syria.

Zaatari Refugee camp in Jordan located close to the Syrian border
A Syrian girl attends catch-up school in the Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan.
Karak (Jordan) - Syrian refugees  are trying to rebuild their lives all across Jordan.

refugees seek safety

“Refugee” is a status many Syrians have difficulties identifying with, they tell me. Their lives were very similar to yours and mine before the war started. Today, five years after the war broke out, more than 250,000 people have been killed and nearly 12 million Syrians are displaced (this includes refugees and internally displaced persons).

The personal stories the Syrian refugees share with us, have many similarities. One thing they all have in common, is that they all seek safety, for themselves and especially for their children if they are parents. They have fled the country they love, where they had families and lives filled with jobs, studies, sports, business, meals with friends and family, celebrations, cooking, laughter… and peace. And today, they still flee from the bombs, the killings, persecution, the war and the “madness” as many described it.

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From left to right.
Top row: Khadeja Washi.
Second row: Samia, Mohamed Tauffik Said, Abd Rabbo Zeyaed Ahmad
Third row: Ra’Eada Zaza and her daughter Reem, Mohammad Al Sheleh, Suad
Fourth row: Abed Al Malik Altaweed and Alyamamah Jawaher


Most of the refugees I met dream of one thing, to one day return to Syria. Until that can happen they need to live their lives with dignity and hope in the hosting countries. All they seek is an opportunity to provide for themselves and their families, to regain some sense of normalcy, as many expressed that the lack of possibilities to work only sank them deeper into depression. Refugee children and adults are plagued by high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder.

We all need to take responsibility, and in this spirit, UNDP is working to boost resilience in a time of strain, among others by building educational programmes, providing vocational training, supporting entrepreneurs, restoring water and electricity supply and cleaning up rubble and debris.

UNDP has made supporting the national efforts of the Government of Jordan to manage the refugee crisis a priority since the onset of the crisis in early 2011, by providing both policy and operational support. Since then nearly 650,000 refugees have poured into the country, mostly living outside of camps and spread across all of Jordan.

At the policy level UNDP has supported the Government in building its capacity in aid coordination resulting in the creation and monitoring of the Jordan National Response Plan (JRP) 2015-2016 and the 2016-2018 Response. The great majority of UNDP’s support comes at the operational level by assisting Governorates and municipalities to expand access to currently over-stretched social services, and to increase livelihood opportunities for vulnerable communities, in particular through the Mitigating the Impact of the Syrian Refugee Crisis on Vulnerable Host Communities project. UNDP also provides support for enhancing relations between local and refugee populations and boosting access to justice in order to foster social cohesion.

Footnote: Interviews and photos: Freya Morales/UNDP
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