Syrians Join Relief Efforts for Countrymen in Jordan

10:17 PM Aida Alami 0 Comments

By Aida Alami

AMMAN, Jordan — During one of her visits to the Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan, a young pharmacist from the Syrian city of Homs tried to inspire distraught and disenchanted refugees.

“Don’t feel humiliated, and keep your head up,” she told a woman, bemoaning the squalid living conditions at the camp. “You have to stay positive or else how are we going to rebuild our country?”

Like many Syrians from Homs, Houla and Dera’a who have fled the shelling and the brutal killings of the bloody conflict, Alma has thrown herself into the relief efforts for Syrian refugees in Jordan. “There are poor people suffering here that I need to help,” said Alma, who, like other people mentioned in this article, asked that her last name be withheld out of fear of reprisals against family members who remain in Syria.

There are more than 200,000 Syrians in Jordan, about 30,000 of them taking refuge in the Zaatari camp, which was set up this summer to accommodate the growing number of refugees coming into the country daily. Those who entered illegally cannot leave the camp unless a Jordanian takes financial responsibility for them.

In a country with limited water and energy resources, taking in the Syrians is creating strains and makes help from Jordanian citizens crucial.

“A refugee can only leave the camp if adopted by a Jordanian,” said Ali Bibi, a field officer for the U.N. refugee agency. “There are host communities that are bringing these Syrians into their homes, and it’s an amazing challenge for them as well.”

Alma recently arrived in Amman and quickly connected with many other Syrians working to help their countrymen. They invest their energy in obtaining medication and clothing to take to the camps and in organizing events like puppet shows to make the refugees’ daily lives more bearable.

Dressed in jeans and sneakers and armed with an iPhone to document what she sees, Alma spends her days visiting refugees or wounded rebels who are getting medical treatment in Amman.

She says she strongly believes that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria will fall and is optimistic about the aftermath of the fighting in Syria.

“When I first saw people protesting in front of my pharmacy, it was like adrenaline — I realized I needed dignity, too,” she recalled. “When I saw soldiers hitting kids, I realized we needed a revolution.”

While wounded defectors from the Syrian Army are getting treatment in a facility by the Syrian border, other members of the Free Syrian Army, who were civilians when they joined the rebellion, are being treated at the Specialty Hospital in Amman. Some are badly wounded and have lost limbs, and others are waiting to heal before returning to the combat zone. Many have not yet turned 18.

“I might go back in a week. I want to join the guys there,” said a youth named Ghassem, who is 18. “If we are going to stay here, looking at each other, it won’t work.

“You apply to return, then the Jordanian Army facilitates handing you over to the Free Syrian Army.”

Fadel, a Syrian merchant from Homs in his 40s, has been active in the Syrian opposition for years. When the uprising began in March 2011, he helped provide food to families of people involved in the revolution in poor areas and helped protesters get supplies, banners and speakers. Then he smuggled wounded people into Jordan but had to stop a few months ago after his cover was blown. One of his brothers was killed and another is still fighting with the Free Syrian Army.

“I would get a small van, remove the back seat and place a mattress on the floor, get them an oxygen tube and drive them to Jordan pretending it was a car accident, or a cancer case, or something of the sort,” he said. “A person who stood courageously in front of the tank and in the face of this failed regime and shouted ‘freedom’ deserves to get the best treatment.”

When his father was diagnosed with cancer in 1994, Fadel drove him to Amman for treatment. Since then, he has built strong links with doctors and now he also helps raise money for the treatments, while also assisting wounded soldiers smuggled into Jordan.

“I have many connections with merchants in the region, in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, and I use these contacts to fund-raise for the treatment of the injured,” he said.

Another Syrian-refugee helper, Sohaib, fled Damascus in August 2011 after being involved in the uprising and after two of his friends went missing. He visited refugee camps in Turkey and in Beirut and now volunteers in Amman. He is working on a project to encourage Syrian refugees to volunteer.

“One of the sad things about Syria is that there is no volunteer work, it was forbidden — they didn’t want people to form independent groups,” he said. “So my ambition here is to install the culture of volunteer work to help kids in the refugee camps.”

He is part of a network of Syrians operating outside the country to help those who remain in the country, for example, by raising money with the help of rich Syrian merchants for bereaved families.

“We are doing a lot of strong work inside Syria,” he said. “Some young men started a group for relief work inside Damascus. For example, every family whose son was killed or arrested is provided for with a monthly salary. This is what we can do. We can’t help everyone, and we don’t receive foreign support.”

Many refugees had little idea that life in a camp would be so hard. The Zaatari camp, run by the United Nations, is in a dusty desert near the Syrian border. Living conditions are harsh and the facilities are rudimentary. Each family shares a tent under a blazing sun and struggles to survive the heat. The lines for food are long.

“Clothes for babies is what they need most, as many women are giving birth here,” said Mahmoud Sadaqa, 47, a Jordanian who has assisted refugees in Jordan for years — from Iraq, the Palestinian territories and now Syria — and who is part of an organization that helps Syrian refugees. He organizes clothing and food drives to distribute them to both official and unofficial camps.

“I have no idea where this stuff comes from,” he added, but “even if President Assad is the one donating clothes for the refugees, I will take them. This is not about politics, it is about helping people.”

You can read the story on the New York Times' website

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