Syrian refugee in Jordan: Don't forget us

Syrian refugees arrive at the Za'atri camp in Jordan. Syria is at the center of donor attention, with humanitarian aid pouring for the displaced inside and outside the country. Photo by: B. Sokol / UNHCR

Six months ago, Fatima was living comfortably in her house with a large kitchen and two living rooms always filled with visitors in El Shajara, a town near the Syrian city of Deraa.

Today, all she has is her new home: A tent in the middle of the Jordanian desert, surrounded by other Syrian refugees.

“Nobody knows how difficult it is to go from being a housewife in my house […] to living in a tent in the middle of this hot desert with all this dust,” she told Devex.

Like many other Syrians, Fatima has escaped the violence in her country, and now she, her husband and four children are among the close to half a million Syrians that have taken refuge in Jordan. She explained people are aware of what’s happening in Syria and what refugees are, but “nobody would understand unless they try living here for a day.”

Fatima said she doesn’t even have a tap to get water from: “I have to walk every morning to fill up my water.”

Her words cut like a knife. While many look in horror to the bloodshed and chaos, only a few truly know how life is on the ground, in the camps, waiting for some form of assistance.

Hollywood actress and UNHCR special envoy Angelina Jolie was among those who have acknowledged this during her recent trip to Za’atari, where she was quoted as saying to Syrian refugees: ”We can’t know your pain.”

Don’t forget about Syria

But a proper home or a tap next to her tent were not Fatima’s immediate concerns when asked what she would tell the international community if given the chance.

Instead she said: “I would tell the world not to forget about Syria and to remember that the fighting and the conflict do not represent the Syrian people.”

“We are peaceful people and what is going on back home represents the actions of the minority,” added Fatima.

The crisis has been on for more than two years now, and aid agencies are already stretched thin. Recently, the U.N. and its partners launched its biggest aid appeal to date — more than $5 billion for the humanitarian response alone.

The humanitarian crisis has put Syria at the center of donor attention, with humanitarian aid pouring for the displaced inside and outside the country.

The World Food Program’s Laure Chadraoui told Devex no one had ever imagined that Syrians, who used to host refugees from Iraq or Lebanon, “would one day need help.”

Cash-strapped

Billions have been pledged in humanitarian assistance, but it remains inadequate given the extent of the crisis. For instance, WFP, which spends $19 million a week for the crisis, needs to raise $723 million by the end of the year to continue its operations.

“This means WFP has to raise $26 million every week to meet the food needs of people affected by the conflict,” said Chadraoui.

The World Bank — which used to provide technical assistance and advisory services on issues such as private sector development, social protection and environmental sustainability to Syria until it halted operations in 2011 — notes that Syria’s recovery will “ultimately depend on the endgame of the ongoing popular uprising and the scope of political and economic reforms that [will] follow.”

But in the immediate aftermath, Syria will for sure grapple with huge economic and development challenges like frozen assets, inflation and unemployment.

For citizens, it means suffering doesn’t end with the end of the crisis — and Fatima seems to be fully aware of this.

“The end is nowhere in sight. I hate to say it, but I think it will take generations for the crisis to end,” she said.

Fatima wonders when she will be able to go back home. She sees herself as a visitor whose time in Za’atari is temporary, “but somehow, the stay keeps extending.”

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About the author

  • Ravelo jennylei

    Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.