Gives Syrian citizenship to any country
Carte Blanche Middle East
The refugees take part in the construction of Jordan
The refugee camp for Syrian refugees Azraq in the north of Jordan on the border with Syria is one of the largest refugee camps in the world. Almost 55,000 people currently live here, and it extends over an area of more than 15 square kilometers. According to which principles does the refugee camp work and how do the aid organizations present cope with this large number of people? How many refugees does Jordanian society take in and how well does it manage to integrate the newcomers? This and other things are described by the head of the CARE crisis team there, Jameel Dababneh.
WHAT HISTORY DOES THE COUNTRY HAVE RECEIVING REFUGEES AND HOW MANY OF THEM ARE CURRENTLY LIVING IN THE COUNTRY?
Since 1948, Jordan has taken in a large number of Palestinian refugees who have settled here and are now Jordanian citizens. At the same time, however, based on a United Nations resolution, they still have the option of going back to Palestine. Jordan has not only taken in Palestinians, but also refugees from Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and last but not least from Syria. We are talking about more than 655,000 Syrian refugees registered with the United Nations. According to current Jordanian statistics, the total number of Syrian refugees in the country is around 1,250,000. If we put the number of refugees in relation to the number of inhabitants, this is a huge amount. Of course there are various challenges associated with this, but the refugees in particular have done a lot to help the country rebuild. They were not only a burden, but on the contrary also an enrichment.
WHEN WAS THE LOCAL REFUGEE CAMP OPENED AND UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES?
When Jordan began to take in refugees after the outbreak of the crisis, nobody really thought that a camp for Syrian refugees would be necessary. But when the number of people increased dramatically - we are talking about thousands of people every day - the authorities of the country decided to open the first refugee camp in 2012, namely Zaatari. When it was full, we're talking about 85,000 people, they decided to open another camp. And this was Azraq, where we are right now. The expansion of the camp was proposed in 1991, at that time in connection with the war in the Persian Gulf. In 2013 this unrealized plan was brought out again and the construction of the infrastructure began to cope with the growing number of refugees who came to the country. The camp opened a year later and is now home to more than 55,000 Syrian refugees.
WHAT IS THE REFUGEE CAMP LIKE?
The refugee camp consists of four villages. Make use of the experience you had with running the camp in Zaatari. Each village has its own service providers - from medical facilities and schools to community service providers and others. There is no electricity in the refugee camp, the people have a little light from small solar collectors. Work is underway on the electrification of the refugee camp, but it is not yet clear when it will be finished. There is only one central point of sale for the entire warehouse, where people can buy groceries. The United Nations World Food Program gives people vouchers worth 20 Jordanian dinars per person and month (around 25 euros), from which they can go shopping at the said sales point. But we're talking about less than a dollar a day, which is well below the poverty line. Because there is only one market here, there is also insufficient economic competition.
DOES THE MANAGEMENT OF THE REFUGEE CAMP REACT IN ANY WAY TO THIS SITUATION?
Yes. The management has decided that they will try to introduce economic structures in the refugee camp. She has therefore set up marketplaces with shops in the individual villages and approached refugees whether they would like to start a small business. But she also spoke to local Jordanian entrepreneurs, after all it is about the host country, which should also benefit from the situation in some way. Furthermore, it is a big problem that the refugees do not have cash that they could use for shopping in these shops, they only get the vouchers mentioned. So we decided to introduce a way for people to earn a little extra money. We approached women and men over the age of 18 who live here that they should register if they are interested in work in the refugee camp. You can work in different industries, depending on your skills and qualifications. We then share the list of registered interested parties with all organizations that work in the refugee camp. Like us, they then look for suitable workers for upcoming tasks on a weekly basis. If the applicants are qualified for a job, they receive 1.5 JD (approx. 2 euros) per hour for a maximum of six hours per week. Unqualified workers get 1 JD (approx. 1.30 euros) per hour. One problem is that we have more than 10,000 registered applicants, but only about 400 jobs. That's why we tried to do a little more. As part of a new program, the refugees have started to qualify for various professions and trades such as handicraft, tailoring, knitting, soap and candle production or creative activities such as painting or the production of recycled products. We recently even hosted the first ever fashion show, which was entirely in the hands of refugees arriving from refugee camps across the country. Through these activities we try to get the refugees, primarily women, to get out of their filter bubble - away from fear, from worries of coming into contact with others, from loneliness, which exacerbates the refugee camp. Getting refugees on the show stage is a huge success in this regard. They had no shame. They designed their own clothes and then presented them in front of the others.
ARE PEOPLE INTERESTED IN SUCH TRAINING?
For sure. Because they want to create something. Syrians are actually very productive. If you know Syria, you probably know that Syrians are very skilled and often qualified people who do not like to be out of work. By offering them these activities, we offer them some protection. By calling the children together and doing different things with them, we prevent them from doing other possible activities that may not be most beneficial to them. We are basically talking about a city, because the refugee camp has an area of about 15 square kilometers. In terms of area, it is probably the largest refugee camp in the world. Involving those who manufacture clothing and other products in the market remains a certain challenge. So that you get a certain economic benefit from your work. But we still have to struggle with that.
DO PEOPLE COME WITH THAT THEY DON'T HAVE ENOUGH MONEY? PEOPLE GET 20 DINAR PER MONTH PER PERSON FROM THE UNITED NATIONS 'WORLD FOOD PROGRAM, WHICH IS NOT ENOUGH BUT AT THE SAME TIME THEY DO NOT HAVE CONSTANT ACCESS TO WORK. WHAT CAN YOU DO TO AVOID HUNGRY?
To a certain extent, the offered opportunity to work helps them, but there are not enough of them. Twenty dinars for a whole month is not enough for most people. But if I have the opportunity to work six hours a day for a week, I earn 42 dinars on top of that, which compensates for the funding gap for at least a month. But yes, it is a problem that needs to be resolved. Understandably, people complain every day. The fact that there is not enough food has long been the number one issue when dealing with complaints from residents. And that's alarming. For example, we saw people who cooked grass for lunch because they had nothing to eat. That is why our organization also provides special food parcels for the refugees, and sometimes private sponsors also bring food here.
HOW CAN PEOPLE SELL THE PRODUCTS THEY MADE FROM THE SKILLS LEARNED IN THEIR COURSES IN THEIR AREA? DOES THE ECONOMIC INTEGRATION WORK?
You don't necessarily have to sell them outside across the warehouse. The biggest problem, however, is that the voucher for 20 dinars that you get cannot be used anywhere else than in the central grocery store. If they could also buy products from each other with the subsidies mentioned, the situation would improve, there would be a certain amount of competition that would also be reflected in the prices. Therefore it is not necessary to sell the products from the refugee camp, after all more than 50,000 people live in it. But there is no cash.
IS THERE A REPRESENTATION OF THE REFUGEES NEGOTIATING WITH THE MANAGEMENT OF THE REFUGEE CAMP? AND WILL THESE REPRESENTATIVES MAY BE ELECTED?
Yes, it is one of the most important elements that make the warehouse work. They are not elected. You will be chosen by us. We learned from the situation in Zaatari, where it was decided to hold elections in 2014. You can imagine. One of the refugees came at that time and said: “How do you imagine holding elections for people who have never experienced free elections?” We have therefore decided to define and set up clear criteria for the selection of representatives of the individual communities Based on tips from our employees who are in the field, we coordinated the pre-selection of candidates with local stakeholders.
HOW DOES THIS REPRESENTATION WORK? IS IT STRUCTURED IN ANY WAY?
Each village is divided into blocks and each block is segmented into four rows, which usually consist of twelve weather roofs. So the goal was to find representatives for each block - a man and a woman. These representatives then meet on two levels, once on the level of the village and once on the level of the entire refugee camp. They also meet continuously with the camp management or the police who are deployed here.
WHAT ORDER IS IN THE REFUGEE CAMP? ARE THERE ANY RULES CONCERNING THE TIME AND DAILY PROGRAM OR DO PEOPLE HAVE ENDLESS FREE TIME?
Time makes the rules. For example, the time when there is bread is a certain rule. It is between six and nine o'clock in the morning and you have to go out and get the bread yourself during this time. They also have to go to fetch water at a predetermined time. There are no water pipes to the protective roofs, so you have to go to the water tank yourself with barrels. The school is open from eight to twelve for the boys and from twelve to four for the girls. That is also a rule. There are also rules through the additional activities of the non-profit organizations that are active here. It's actually an unplanned, somehow natural structure.
HOW IS SECURITY IN THE WAREHOUSE ENSURED?
There are various ways to guarantee security in the warehouse. So here, for example, we have police officers who are not just regular police officers, but also, in a way, social workers. They do not carry pistols, they only have a uniform and are very friendly. You are trained to be a professional humanitarian, and not just in terms of security. That is why they are very close to the local residents. Then there are police officers at the central level and at the same time the refugees themselves are a kind of security unit. Quite a few refugees work here as security guards and so people are used to communicating normally on an everyday level. By discussing together, they have a preventive influence on various possible incidents. I am thinking primarily of all kinds of arguments. however, some refugees also complain about other safety deficiencies, for example wild dogs and especially scorpions and reptiles. Recently, refugees caught a ten-foot queue here. That is why we try to train the residents in how to protect themselves from scorpions or snakes, how to render them harmless, how to put out fires, how to deal with various health challenges. Accidents just happen.
IF YOU NEED TO GENERALIZE, WILL THIS CAMP BE PERCEIVED BY THE LOCAL REFUGEES AS A WALK-THROUGH STATION? WHAT IS YOUR DESTINATION?
There are only three possible solutions for refugees in the world. The first is voluntary return to their country. The second is repatriation, i.e. relocation to a third country. The third is integration in the host country. At this moment I cannot say which of the possibilities is realistic for our refugees. That depends mainly on politics and other factors. We still hope that the Syrian crisis will be resolved and I personally hope that they will be able to return to their homeland safely.
HOW DO THE RESIDENTS OF THE REFUGEE CAMP SEE THIS? ARE YOU SATISFIED HERE OR ARE YOU TENDING TO GO AGAIN?
The degree of satisfaction varies and everything else depends on it. We never find a person here who is satisfied with everything in the camp. In my opinion, one of the most important things is whether they are well protected. Personally, I think that the protection of the local refugees is at a very high level. Of course, you see it completely differently. It is also natural for man to compare. And that doesn't just apply to refugees. For example, you came to Jordan and compared what is better and what is worse. So the refugees also compare, for example the price of tomatoes. Jordan is widely considered to be one of the most expensive Arab states in the region. And when you compare food prices, you are really upset. And that has a big impact on satisfaction.
ANGELA MERKEL'S POLICIES ARE A BIG TOPIC IN EUROPE. SOME OPINION THAT HER INVITING SYRIAN REFUGEES INVITED THEIR HIGH NUMBER IN GERMANY. DID YOUR FAMOUS EXPRESSION ACTUALLY HAVE SUCH AN INFLUENCE ON PEOPLE LEAVING THE CAMPING HERE?
Refugees are well aware of everything that is going on in the world. They have smartphones, they have access to the internet every now and then and they keep track of the news that concern them. You do not know Angela Merkel personally, for you she is some kind of politician. But who they know are their relatives in Europe. So you can be much more influenced by your families who already live in Europe than by Merkel. They send each other messages, photos, they reinforce each other that it is good in Europe and that it is safe for them to come to Europe too. And then some are disappointed for various reasons. The case is different for every family. And of course there is also the economic factor. For example, in a number of Western countries, education is free. People not only think of themselves but also of their children and want them to have a good education that they can afford. Some also leave because of the high quality medical care in a number of the destination countries that is covered by insurance. A number of people also come to Jordan because of health problems, as our country is known for the high level of medical care.
WHAT POSSIBILITIES DO THE REFUGEES HAVE TO CONNECT WITH THE URBAN ENVIRONMENT? THE NEAREST TOWN IS JUST 30 MINUTES BY CAR FROM HERE. IS THIS A HAPPY CHOOSED LOCATION FOR A REFUGEE CAMP? DO PEOPLE ALSO DRIVE TO THE CITY OF AZRAQ?
This is not related to distance at all, but to swell and growth. The city of Azraq, after which our camp is named, is a place that struggles with poverty. If we were to send the local refugees there, this would be a further burden for our city. And they know that themselves, that's why they don't go there. Some sometimes go to more distant cities trying to get work on an ad hoc basis. For a number of refugees this is not an easy place to live. For others it is simply a familiar environment because they came here from similar backgrounds. Some even lived in tents before. This is relative and cannot be generalized.
HOW DOES JORDAN SOCIETY PERCEIVE THE REFUGEES? IS ANY TENSION TO BE FEELED HERE DUE TO THE GROWING NUMBER IN THE COUNTRY?
At the beginning of the crisis - Syrians and Jordanians are about as close as Czechs and Slovaks - the Jordanians were very hospitable and welcomed the refugees. Lately the issue of work has been casting a certain shadow over this relationship. It also has something to do with culture. A large proportion of young Jordanians are not ready to take any job. In contrast, basically all Syrians, but also Egyptians, for example, are ready to do anything. Jordanians like to work in the office. We have a very high level of literacy, one of the highest in the world. Many people also have a college education. And we have been struggling here for about a year to get people to think more of the country where they live and to share in its prosperity. We have many migrants here from Egypt and Asia - especially from Sri Lanka and the Philippines, who work here as housekeepers or babysitters.
AND DOES PEOPLE BOTHER THAT THE MIGRANTS AND REFUGEES ARE TAKING THEIR WORK?
Not so much. It is more about the fact that they cannot compete with them in certain areas. Not because the refugees would be more productive, but simply because when people leave their country and have the thought of finding work in their heads, they accept any job. He doesn't have to think about things that locals think about - such as social status or prestige. The Jordanians have family and friends here, so they need more. We are not in a situation where we are in very bad shape and we need any income. The Jordanian economy is fragile. There is a relatively high proportion of unemployed here and there is generally a lack of job opportunities. Despite everything, there are no major conflicts or tensions to be observed here. Almost not at all, actually.
ARE PEOPLE STILL OPEN TO THE REFUGEES?
It’s okay with them. And in that regard, it's important to mention one thing. According to a government decision, the humanitarian aid that comes to Jordan in connection with the refugees is not only aimed at the refugees, but 30% goes to poor Jordanian communities. And that helped. Because the locals also benefit from it.
The social anthropologist Pavel Borecký and the writer Petra Hůlová, who were present at the interview and contributed their own questions, also took part in the conversation. The interview was created as part of the Carte Blanche Midlle East project of the Goethe Institutes in Prague and Amman.
Lukáš Houdek is the coordinator of the HateFree Culture project. Studied Romance studies at the Philosophical Faculty of Charles University in Prague. Also dedicates himself to his own artistic work, in which he reflects on the topics of identity, violence from hatred and lawlessness
Translation: Jan Sommerfeldt
Copyright: HateFree Culture
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