Seeking Refuge in Jordan
By: Marguerite Guter
December 6, 2017
There are approximately 10 million people living in Jordan. Of those, more than 1.4 million are Syrian refugees. This number includes both registered and unregistered refugees. Some of them live in camps, the largest of which is the Zaatari refugee camp in the north of Jordan, while many refugees live in Amman or other large cities. Meanwhile, refugees from rural Syria, near the Jordanian border, often simply crossed the border to live with their relatives when the war began. These Jordanian relatives have hosted their Syrian family members for the past 10 years. However, refugees from Syria are not the only ones here. There are well over two million Palestinians living in Jordan, many of whom have Jordanian citizenship but do not consider the country their permanent home. After the 2003 Iraq war, many Iraqis fled to Jordan, but the majority have since returned, leaving mostly Iraqi Christians here long-term. Refugees, whether registered or not, are also here from a variety of other countries. The Jordan Times estimates that there are about 1.2 million “illegal” migrant workers in Jordan, many of whom may be fleeing dangerous circumstances in their home countries. In total, this means Jordan hosts at least 4 million refugees—almost half its total population.
Because I am very interested in refugee issues, I am working as an intern at Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) in Amman, on their home visits team. This team is made up of mostly refugees. They work to reach out to refugee communities in the city, visit them, and talk about their needs, their situations, and how they are doing. JRS also offers other services, like medical clinics and limited cash assistance. The limited cash assistance is generally used for critical medical costs or paying off rent and loans. Our organization is unique because it serves all refugees, rather than just Syrians or registered refugees. Many of the people we serve are Sudanese, a group which Jordan does not welcome or acknowledge. However, JRS is a small organization that cannot solve all the problems of the hundreds of thousands of refugees living in Amman. Despite the incredibly dire situations of the families they see on a daily basis, my coworkers are amazingly friendly and cheerful around the office, making jokes and sharing food. They explain that they have to laugh, because the only other option is to cry.
Imagine walking around a city where two out of every five people you meet is a refugee. These refugees have had experiences beyond my imagination, and walked (or ran) away from their homes out of fear. Although most refugees still hope to be resettled, they are working to make a future in Jordan and keep their families and lives together. Refugees here face many challenges: they have no legal right to work, they receive very minimal income assistance but are expected to pay rent, and they do not have important winter necessities. Since I have interned in U.S. refugee resettlement as well, I know that other countries do not support refugees much either. In America, refugees receive 90 days of monetary support before they must be fully self-sufficient. All refugees are expected to pay back the cost of their plane ticket to come to America.
However, I am constantly in awe of the refugees’ strength and resilience. Most of my coworkers fled from Syria or Iraq or Sudan, but they don’t dwell on the past and instead keep working for the future. They are eager to learn English as fast as possible, and we practice our language skills on each other in the office. I help make sure nothing is missed in translation, like when a case of tonsillitis was mistakenly called “almonds” by Google Translate. They enjoy the food in Jordan and make sure I have tried some of everything. Living in Jordan is very new and odd for me. It is hard to remember that refugees probably feel just as strange about it, but notice different details. Sometimes my coworkers miss things from before they left home, like warmer weather or their native dialect of Arabic. However, there are shared things here as well, like religion, that make the transition easier. Some of them wear hijab and are devout Muslims, while others are Christian or don’t mention faith. We all share excitement for being able to help people. Everyone gets worried for relatives when bad things happen back home, too, like the earthquake on the Iran-Iraq border a month or so ago. Above all, as much as we help refugees live in Jordan and make a home for themselves here, I share a common sentiment with the refugees I work with: we wish they weren’t forced to live here. I’ve seen this hope in the United States too, but it’s more immediate in Jordan. Refugees aren’t begrudged a home in this country, but everyone wishes conflicts would end so they would have the option of return to their former homes.