Our Lady of Peace Center shelters refugees in Jordan
Jordan – The Holy Land Coordination is now in Jordan, the final stage of its pastoral visit to the region, after Gaza and Bethlehem. The delegation of European, North American and South African Bishops, visited Syrian and Iraqi refugees, to deliver a message of solidarity and mercy.
According to United Nations figures, some 600,000 refugees are in Jordan; the Jordanian authorities for their part believe that the number would reach 1.4 million, or 20% of the total population, or one out of five is a refugee. About 20% of Syrian refugees live in camps in Azraq and Zaatari (located e north of the country) while the vast majority are in the cities.
Iraqi refugees arrived in August 2014, fleeing the alarming rise of Daesh in the plains of Nineveh. Support for them is provided by Caritas and other Catholic organizations, including the Center Our Lady of Peace in Amman. Its Director General, Father Ala Nadim Alamat speaks on the situation of these refugees.
These Iraqi refugees lived in rooms and hospices belonging to the church, before moving into caravans for some time. Currently, many families live in apartments, receiving support from Caritas for food and shelter. However, this aid is insufficient and does not cover all expenses. Children go to school, and parents are trying to find work in churches or centers. For them, this is a unique opportunity because the government does not issue them work permits, and the fine for being caught working without a permit can be up to two to three thousand Jordanian dinars, and possible deportation.
Most Iraqis were not registered as refugees by UNHCR, the meetings are often postponed. So they remain officially as asylum seekers and are not at the top of UNHCR’s priorities. That is why many families are trying to find Church sponsorships in Canada or Australia.
How do you manage during this winter?
Iraqi refugees, who are in collaboration with OLPC were were moved into apartments for the winter. Although it is too expensive to heat their apartments, they enjoy the least protection against the weather. Refugees who are in the camps, however, have difficulty against the cold and have a harder time staying warm and dry, especially during storms and rain. Last winter many tents collapsed under the snow, and emergency assistance (clothing, fuel) was therefore necessary in the camps.
Do you have enough resources?
Caritas Jordan provides food supply, shelter and medical care for Iraqi refugees. However, our organization is always looking for funds to be able to continue providing for them. Caritas, with the help of many organizations and people of good will continue to raise funds on a regular basis. Housing is perhaps the main concern. Currently, Caritas is able to cover the rent of a family for a period of six to ten months, after which another solution must be found.
Regarding the aid brought by UNHCR to the Syrians, it is less than the minimum that would be required to provide basic assistance to every Syrian. Many refugees are into debt to feed and house their families.
We heard that some refugees prefer going back to Syria, because of the difficult conditions of living in Jordan…
I have not heard of many people going back to Syria, though I do know of some families who chose to go back to Iraq (Kurdistan). For families who are not committed to resettlement, they are often checking on conditions in Kurdistan and are willing to return if the situation there seems much better than in Jordan. The same is probably true for Syrians, however, the situation in Syria is much much worse than the situation in Kurdistan. It is important to note that refugees who return to Iraq are not returning to their homes. Mosul and the villages around, home to most of the Iraqis, are still under complete control of DAESH. So, returning to Iraq, where most refugees settle in semi-autonomous Kurdistan, is not the same as returning home.
What’s the state of mind of the refugees?
Moving into apartments has generally gave hope to the families who anticipate they can be peaceful and comfortable through the winter, although worried about how long the funds will last and where they will go afterwards. They are also heartened by the acceptance of some families into church-sponsored resettlement programs in Australia, which they prefer than UN resettlement process. That the children could return to school this fall has also been very good for these families, especially after a year of interruption.
However, families are still concerned about being deported if they are not resettled soon. They need to work in Jordan to provide food for their families, but without working permits run the risk of fines and deportation. Even if the money is not an absolute necessity, some of the refugees, especially the men, yearn to return to work because it is very difficult to wait without doing anything. .
So I would say their state of mind is better, hopeful for the future and because of that hope, they endure the uncertainty and hardships of the present day.
I would like to mention that both Muslims and Christians in Jordan are very helpful to the Iraqi refugees who fled from the savage attacks of DAESH. The Jordanian Christians have the opportunity to meet Iraqi Christians who have left everything except their faith in Jesus. We thank the Lord for this beautiful testimony.
We are proud of Jordan, which has always been able to hosting refugees on its territory. Hospitality is expensive, but Jordan remains open and inclusive. However, today we really need the help of the international community, here and now.
Interview by Manuella Affejee