Though Jordan may be a landlocked country in the Middle East, inhabited by more than 10 million people, it is, in some ways, an island of stability in the region. Although it shares its borders with many turbulent neighbours, in recent years, the Hashemite Kingdom has made it a point of honour to maintain peace.
It’s not easy to maintain peace when you are geographically located in the front row of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or when bombs are raining over Syria only a few kilometres away.
These dramatic events undoubtedly have a direct impact on neighbouring Jordan. It has been a host country for Palestinian refugees since 1948, then for Iraqi refugees in the 1990s, and more recently for Syrian refugees. As a result of the conflicts, Jordan is currently hosting more than 67,000 Iraqi refugees and nearly 665,500 Syrian refugees registered by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
Today, there could be 1.2 million Syrians living in Jordan. Most of them, almost 84%, are living among host communities. For the most part, they have been living in the country for years, having migrated for reasons not related to the ongoing crisis in Syria. However, the remaining 16% live in refugee camps like Zaatari or Azraq.
Waiting for work and stability
These camps are located in the middle of the desert in the north of the country, with suffocating summers and harsh winters. The tents line up as far as the eye can see. These places, built in a hurry at the beginning of the Syrian crisis, today, seem frozen in time. What was supposed to be only a temporary solution has become an endless reality for thousands of people.
As the camps slowly turn into semi-permanent cities, refugees struggle to find work and earn a living for themselves and their families. In the meantime, life goes on, one way or another: through part-time jobs, in schools, restaurants, clothing shops.
In Azraq camp, which opened in April 2014, the work of NGOs makes it possible to offer a full range of services, including healthcare, education, extracurricular activities for children and youth, vocational training, as well as water, sanitation and hygiene services. However, this help, although essential, is far from being a sufficient response for the thousands of people whose hopes are dwindling by the day. Today, more than 35,000 refugees live in the camp, 60% of whom are children. Women are at the head of the family in 1 out of 4 households.
52-year-old Shaadya, from Homs, shares her daily hardships: “We can’t afford to buy certain food because of our limited financial resources. My husband has only had 2 jobs since we got here and I can’t find any jobs either.”
Finding a new home
Even though the refugee camps often don’t provide long-term solutions, most of the refugees have thankfully found their place among host communities. Like 66-year-old Mustafa, who comes from Daraa. He remembers the exact day he arrived in Jordan: February 18th, 2013, at 9 pm. He spent some time in Zaatari camp and now lives in Irbid with his wife. Mustafa has painful memories of his escape and speaks of it with tears in his eyes. As he tells his story, it seems that what moved him the most was the warm welcome he received when he got here.
“There’s nothing alien here, we have the same way of speaking, I don’t feel like a stranger. Everyone welcomed me warmly; there is a lot of solidarity in the neighbourhood. I am very grateful for all the help I have received.”
However, the prolonged Syrian crisis has increased the vulnerability of refugees and members of host communities. The sudden influx of people has undermined already fragile resources, weakened public infrastructure and reduced the country’s ability to provide basic services for all.
Helping the most vulnerable
In order to address issues in the most comprehensive way possible, Action Against Hunger is implementing programs that both tackle the lack of infrastructure and strengthen the livelihoods of the most vulnerable people, both Syrian and Jordanian.
In order to achieve this, our teams have implemented a project aiming to strengthen solid waste management, after having noted that despite the high level of waste production in Jordan, there are currently only 18 operational disposal sites, only four of which are located in the North. However, industrialization, urbanization and the Syrian crisis are increasing solid waste production in the region.
We pay workers, both male and female, to collect waste and recyclable materials outdoors. In addition to supporting the municipality in this collection, this makes it possible to offer a financial income to these people through a salary as well as a supplement on income through the resale of recyclable materials.
For Adam, an 18-year-old boy from Jordan, this project changed his daily life. “Now, I have a job that keeps me busy and allows me to provide for my family and protect the environment.
In this project, both Jordanian and Syrian refugees are equally represented, which soothes tensions and creates bonds between the two communities.
“When Jordanians and Syrians work side by side, it allows them to get to know each other better. By working together we’re hoping they can live together.” Osama Hourani, communications officer on this project.