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The Syrian Civil war has uprooted half of Syria’s 22 million population and displaced more than 5million Syrians into neighboring countries. 1 million are thought to be living in informal camps in Lebanon, whilst the Jordanian government claims 1.3 million are taking shelter in their country. Now, after a conflict that has lasted longer than the Second World War and temporary Camps such as Zaatari and Azraq have become permanent fixtures, the refugees are accepting their return home will not be as soon as hoped and many are now facing the hardship of rebuilding their lives while living displaced.
“We are here because we are safe, not because we are happy”
After staying 3 years in Homs waiting for war to end, Aya* and her family lost hope and fled to Jordan for her children’s safety in 2013. Leaving behind their owned house, shops, and offices they would rent out, the family are now forced to survive on food coupons and their children begging on the street “the experience is humiliating and something we never had to do in Syria”. The neighbors have thrown garbage at them telling them to return to Syria and the children miss their bikes and computer. On arrival in Jordan, the family stayed one night in a refugee camp but there was no electricity or water, now they live in an apartment in Amman that has two rooms for seven people.
“Our only wish is for our voice to be heard”
Mohammed and Sara* also arrived from Homs in 2013 with their 6 children, declaring the situation in Syria as having gotten really bad with people killing each other, many rape cases and too many bombs. Mohammed* wanted to protect his family and leave with dignity. The family stayed in Zaatari Camp for 1 month and are now living in Amman, relying completely on food coupons and food their neighbors give them to take care of them. Mohammed* has a broken leg, diabetes and heart problems so is unable to work, none of the children are in school because the family cant afford the transportation costs to get them there. Although he is registered with UNHCR and has the medical papers that prove he needs help, he receives none. Using coupons to pay for everything, the family relies on neighbors to give them food and they are living day by day.
“We feel we have lost our identity. We don’t belong anywhere anymore”
When the family left Syria and the house they owned there, Homs was surrounded. Mohammed* still has a brother and some family who remained there who he has had no contact with for 4 years. Occasionally the family sits together to remember the happiness they had in Syria, but they don’t like to watch the news.
Maya*, from Damascus, is living in Mafraq Jordan with her husband and two young children. When she first arrived in Jordan she became a teacher, but since having her children teaching became more impossible as she was unable to afford childcare. Now, with a business grant and training provided from the Danish Refugee Council, she has her own sewing business, which she is able to run from home and work around the care of her young children. Maya* says the grant opened a door of hope as she never thought it possible to have her own business and now she owns her own sewing machine, doesn’t need to ask for money and has made new friends and more networks in her new community. Nooda* moved to Jordan five years ago from Homs with her three children. Now divorced, she is completely rebuilding her life- something she has only been able to do with a business grant from Danish Refugee Council. Nooda* hand makes natural soaps using molds and research from the internet. She has spent months experimenting with different ingredients and flavors to create different soaps for all types of skin care. Although she is legally unable to own her own shop in Jordan, she dreams to have her own shop and business one day, but for now is happy selling her products at a reasonable price to women in the community around her.
“Now I have bought a fan, a TV & a fridge it feels like home”
Miriam* and her 8 year old daughter and 18 year old son live in Azraq refugee camp alongside 36,000 other Syrian refugees. She makes US$10 a day selling clothes which she makes after being given a business grant to pay for a sewing machine and some fabric. When the family first arrived to the camp in 2014 after being caught by police in Amman, they were unable to do anything because there was no work and no electricity so everybody would just sit around in the street. Now that she has her own business and the camp has electricity she has bought a fan, a TV and a fridge that makes it feel like home. Miriam’s* son was happy in Syria studying at university, but here he has no work opportunities and suffers from trauma. The culture for her in Syria didn’t allow her to work, but now in Azraq she is making and selling clothes and has many friends who she meets everyday for coffee in each others houses. Now she is happy because she has her independence, is able to work and her daughter is attending school- something she was unable to do past the age of 12. Within Azraq, many adults are now taking part in courses such as beauty, sports, IT, cooking and English which they graduate in after a few months ready to use what the learn to earn money inside of the camp. On graduation day, many of the graduating women are seen applying hair and make up to their young daughters to demonstrate their new skills.
“I’m worried about the psychological effect war has had on my children”
Sayid*i has 5 children now in school in Karak, Jordan, and is thinking of returning to Syria to get them into University when they are old enough. Both he and his wife have PHD’s and are proud to show off their son’s straight A grade card which he has maintained since fleeing the war. Sayid* says he misses Syria because education was free, medicine was free, they had two houses but now are relying on food coupons to survive. He stresses how difficult it is for people with degrees to work outside of Syria, as the only jobs on offer to them now are Agricultural or construction, they aren’t permitted to be teachers and Jordanian law states he and his wife cant work legally. The family chose to live in Jordan because of the similar culture, but both Nader and his wife are worried about the psychological issues their children may be suffering with, and wish there were more NGO’s focusing on mental health for refugees.
Rane* lives in a refugee camp consisting of 40 tents and 47 families (around 400 people) in Beqaa governorate with her five children aged between 7 and 15. Her husband has been detained in Syria for 5 years, when the crisis started, each house in her town was raided and the men were taken and she has not heard from her husband in 5 years. Other women from the camp share stories of their husbands going to work or leaving to get bread and never returning. She has no information about her property in Syria and due to transportation costs she is unable to send her children to school.
Within the refugee camps in Beqaa there are discussion groups on child marriage and women’s rights. The women, all aged between 15-24, are able to bring their young children along and meet in private to discuss their work opportunities, the pros and cons of child marriage, sexual health and the expectation of women in their society. These meetings provide the women with a safe place to discuss their experiences and troubles with other refugees and build a community within the camp with a network of like women they are able to trust.