16/07/2012 – Over the past 16 months armed clashes have grown into a conflict which has affected almost all of Syria, killing thousands, wounding an unknown number and displacing tens of thousands. On 5 July, UNHCR put the number of people who have crossed into neighbouring countries at 200,000. Although only 32,000 are registered with the UNHCR, almost 130,000 Syrians refugees are now in Jordan.
In the past weeks they have crossed the border between Syria and Jordan in a steady flow of 200-400 people a day, many of them women and children. Their first stop in Jordan is often the impoverished northern town of Ramtha, where they can register voluntarily with the UN’s refugee agency. ECHO funds these registration activities. Those who do not have a visa are then brought to transit camps bearing well-sounding names like ‘King Abdullah Park’, ‘the Stadium’, ‘Cyber City’.
In Cyber City, an industrial compound set up in a free zone, a 6-storey building initially built for migrant workers and then left vacant over the past four years, is now hosting 400 people. Works to improve the living conditions are on-going. Food distributions take place regularly and a clinic has been set up by the Jordanian health aid society just 50 meters away.
In the basement of the 6-storey building lives Shamsa and her family from Baba Amr, Homs. The walls are dirty, the corridors dark. Opening the door of her room, the 46-year-old woman wears a welcoming smile on her face. Her three daughters sit on the mattress across from their mother. Her four boys are outside with the men.
“It’s difficult,” she says, still smiling.
She told me that for the past three months, she and her family had moved to four different destinations in Syria and lived in a school building with other Syrians before she finally decided to cross the Jordanian border. “They [armed groups] entered our village four times. My cousin’s children were shot and she was burnt alive. Electricity has been out most of the time in our village for a year now,” she added.
“We wanted to stay in the village, but now people are being killed. They are even attacking women and slaughtering cows. The smell of blood is in the streets,” her elder daughter Eman, 24, said. Shamsa explains how her husband fled Syria with his second wife before she and the children could leave. She says he was bailed out by a Jordanian friend from Maan, a city southwest of the capital Amman.
The girls took turns to anxiously narrate their stories. They seemed bewildered by the recollection of the deafening noise that surrounded them in Syria. “Over our heads planes were meandering in the sky,” Rab’a, 19, said. “The sound of the shelling still rings in our ears. Now, any sound causes anxiety and reminds us of Syria. Mentally we are still stuck in Syria. We need psychological help. We are still in shock.”
“Last night I saw my homeland in my dream. It was being shot down,” her younger sister, Aisha added, gazing down at her hands as she nervously folded them in her lap.
The youngest sibling in the family, Mohammad, 12 years old, walked in. His mother rejoiced in his presence. “We’ve been here for only two days and he has already made friends with the police here,” she praised him.
How can they move on? Their only chance is the so-called ‘bailout system’ put in place by the Jordanian government. This system foresees that Jordanian nationals above the age of 35 and with no criminal record can provide a financial guarantee to bailout Syrian families from the transit centres. Hence they are taking over the responsibility for the bailed out families. Without the necessary documents proving that they have been bailed out, none of the Syrians can leave the fenced in and guarded transit camps. The bailout system is not applicable to Syrians of Palestinian origin, who are stuck at Cyber City
Eman, Shamsa’s eldest daughter, is a hair stylist. She said an acquaintance, the owner of a hair salon in Ramtha, will bail her and her family out so she could work at his salon. The family expects to leave in a couple of days from the Bashabsheh transit centre.
So far, over 17,500 people have been bailed out and now probably live all over Jordan. As I entered the transit centre in Ramtha, I crossed paths with a couple and their teenage daughter. They were loading plastic bags, some torn exposing colourful garments, into the car of their Jordanian “bailer”. Off to an unknown future.
ECHO has provided €20 million to help Syrians affected by the conflict inside the country and in neighbouring countries. In Jordan ECHO funds UNHCR ‘s registration activities , as well as the distribution of food and basic household items.
Communications and information assistant, Amman.