Syrian refugees brace for winter in Jordan

AMMAN, Jordan – Inside the floppy tent she calls home, Foza wonders aloud how she and her family will possibly weather the fast-approaching winter chill.

Foza, her husband, Sader, and their five children had to flee their home near Hama, Syria, about a year and a half ago. They were on the run for a year inside Syria – sometime sleeping beneath trees – before arriving in July at this unofficial refugee camp in an east Amman industrial park. Along the way, her eldest son, Muhammad (one of her four sons with cerebral palsy) died of exhaustion.

“It was difficult transporting the children,” Foza says to Jordanian relief worker Vera Haddad. “Everything was difficult — the heat, the dust. They [my children] have almost experienced death.”

Millions suffering

Unofficially, 1.3 million Syrian people have fled to Jordan since the start of the Syrian civil war in March 2011. At least 2 million more have poured into Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt and Iraq to escape the violence that has forced millions more from their homes inside Syria. The war there has killed more than 100,000 people.

Most of the 50 or so families in this camp are from a village near Hama. About 45 of the families have some relation to each other.

Despite the trauma of being forced from their homes, people here go about their daily routines as best they can with no running water or electricity. In one tent, a mother chops and deep-fries potatoes over a butane burner. Outside another, some young kids giggle as they fill plastic containers with loose gravel and dirt – an improvised desert sandbox.

The adults cobble together shelters from tarps, bolts of cloth and tents purchased or stolen from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). One tent even has the plastic wrap from a Toyota billboard for one of its walls.

Connecting personally

As partnership coordinator for the Jordanian Evangelical Committee for Relief and Development (JECRaD), Haddad scours the city in her red Peugot compact, searching for unofficial camps like this one (she’s found two others as well). She pulls up, looking for tents she doesn’t recognize from her last visit. Within minutes, she’s scrawling the names of the newcomers in Arabic, talking with them about their lives and telling them how her church might help.

“I always say, ‘It could be me,’” says Haddad, 56, who lived through Jordan’s 1970 civil war. “I can be a refugee at any time. Who knows?”

One man who fled Hama with his wife and children is Anas Mustafa Halif. He shows a cell phone video of his and his neighbors’ houses burning, set ablaze by Syrian Army troops.

At least it’s better than running from the troops who destroyed Halif’s home and business.

“The regime came in and burned all my belongings,” Halif says through an interpreter. “It was very, very difficult to get to Jordan. Of course, it was a very difficult decision, because we did not enter the country the official way. We entered the unofficial way, where we walked in the desert many days with our children.

“There was shelling all the way until we got to Jordan. They were hungry, they were cold, they were frightened. We have been here six months, and up to now, they have not recovered from this experience.”

This morning, Halif is helping to build a sort of vestibule to keep cold winds out of a tent that 16 people will share this winter. The tent’ contents are sparse – some foam mattresses, blankets, a propane heater. But for the $25 per month per person given by UNHCR, it was all they could do just to scrounge pallet boards to nail together.

With his name on Haddad’s list, Halif can join other people from this camp who will receive food and aid packages from a church associated with JECRaD. While the kits won’t cover all the families’ needs, they will supply food and hygiene kits and other items they need to brave the winter.

Syria traditionally has exported huge amounts of produce to Jordan, but with many Syrian farms destroyed in the fighting, food prices in Jordan have quadrupled since the start of the war. Rents across northern Jordan have tripled as builders scramble to keep up with demand for housing.

As Syrian families continue to struggle with the expenses and the shock of life on the run, Haddad is glad she and her church can help.

“Most of these families did not have a relationship with a church or Christians before, and all the (Syrian) people who are in Jordan are Muslims,” Haddad says. “So this is our opportunity with them to show them the passion, the love. We have good friendships with them. We pray with them in the name of Jesus that God will touch their needs and encourage them.”


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