Accompanying Refugees in Amman
11 January 2018

Yousif from Sudan

Yousif from Sudan is one of thousands of refugees who lives in Amman, the capital of Jordan. Like so many forcibly displaced people, he fled his country for the apparent safety, security, and opportunities offered by a big city like Amman. Yousif is in the prime of his youth: he wants a better life and a better future; however, each day he is confronted with the realities and challenges of being a refugee in a foreign land.

Amman, the capital of Jordan is widely regarded as one of the most liberal cities in the Arab world. It is home to a little over four million of Jordan’s 9.5 million people. Since 1948, Jordan has welcomed refugees from Palestine, Kuwait, Iraq and more recently from Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, and other war-torn parts of Africa. With a refugee population of over 2.7 million, Jordan is easily the country that currently hosts the greatest number of refugees in the world. Almost 80 per cent of these refugees are apparently concentrated in Amman.

The Jordanian government, UN agencies such as UNHCR and UNRWA, and other international organisations, are certainly doing whatever is possible for the refugees. However, the reality for many of them, like Yousif, remains uncertain. There is a daily struggle on several fronts: lack of appropriate housing (the cost of rent for even small rooms is astronomical); unemployment; lack of medical care; and the range of social problems that refugees normally face in most foreign countries—most frequently, exclusion by the locals and exploitation. 

Yousif once rented a one-room apartment at an exorbitant price, even though the bathroom and toilet were located outside and there was no heating. He managed to find work at a construction site, carrying materials and cleaning up, but since he suffers from a kidney ailment, the hard work took its toll on his health. When he went to the construction manager to resign, he was beaten so badly his nose was broken. These are the types of incidents that occur frequently, and create a sense of helplessness and apathy among displaced people in this urban context.

Jesuit Refugee Service began work in Jordan in 2008. Ever since, it has provided the refugees with a variety of services, which include:

  • Tertiary/ higher education programmes
  • Home visits that enable JRS teams to meet with the refugees, sit and listen to them, assess their needs, and determine how best to support to them.
  • Psychosocial support that is given to those who are unable to leave their homes to access services from other organizations. 

As an organization, JRS Jordan is committed to serving, accompanying, and advocating for all refugees irrespective of their nationality. This is not the case of most organizations in Amman, though in theory some may also state that they serve all. 

JRS therefore does face some challenges, and among them are: 

  • The constant influx of refugees into Amman, many of whom have left the official camps because of the poor conditions there. Therefore, JRS has constantly had to deal with newer requests for assistance.
  • There is growing unemployment among the refugees, and work permits, of which around 36,000 have been issued, are only available to Syrian refugees in certain sectors. These work permits are not available to other nationalities, leading the majority of refugee groups to work illegally (very often late at night and in the early hours of the morning) and experiencing great exploitation.
  • Amman is an expensive city; most of the refugees can hardly afford the steep rents; there are several other expenses refugees need to meet like medical care, education, transportation, and food.
  • Unfortunately, aid for refugees in Amman is not based on need but on nationality, so various organizations are therefore cautious when offering services. This is particularly a challenge in the case of medical assistance. Many refugees have medical needs including check-ups, medication, surgery, or ongoing support for chronic conditions. JRS often faces a situation when refugees of certain nationalities cannot be given a referral because there is practically no one who will respond to their medical needs, which makes them extremely vulnerable in these situations. 
  • Those interested in higher education have practically no opportunities due to a lack of programs of this type (although there are some programs, which cater to Syrian refugees). JRS has been trying to fill this gap as much as possible by providing a variety of classes that do not discriminate against Amman has varied refugee population. 
  • Resettlement is only an option for a small portion of the refugees in Jordan, and due to fewer spots being available in countries for resettlement; fewer refugees are being resettled than last year. In addition, not all countries who are accepting refugees are taking those of all nationalities.

Elizabeth Woods, Project Director of Urban Refugee Support of JRS Jordan, puts it succinctly:

Urban refugees in Amman face a multitude of issues stemming from how aid is not based on need but on nationality, thus some groups are extremely vulnerable when the situation is already difficult for all.” 

This is a sentiment that is unequivocally shared by Insherah Mousa, the JRS Country Director, and the other members of the JRS Jordan team as well.

For refugees like Yousif, life in Amman remains complex. However, JRS’s projects offer opportunities that are inclusive, giving those on the margins greater access to multiple types of assistance. The JRS home visit team assessed Yousif’s immediate needs, and aided him in getting medical treatment. He still is not cured, and remains unemployed. But he spends most of his time at the JRS Centre, where he studies English. When he speaks about his relationship with JRS, he is effusive. “When I heard about JRS I registered with them. I am happy about this decision because no other organization helped me before that.

It is interesting to note that, Amman is an Arabic word that translates as, ‘resident,’ ‘citizen,’ ‘one who stays in a place for a long time.’ Yousif and other refugees come to cities like Amman to make it their home; but for them, one questions if this will every become a reality?

*(With inputs from Elizabeth Woods, Esraa Janajreh and Bushara Nalu from JRS Jordan)

Fr Cedric Prakash SJ is the Regional Advocacy and Communications Advisor of JRS MENA)

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