Ali and Areej’s farm, the large duplex that Saleha shared with her husband’s family, Ahmad’s cafes, Alima’s garden, Noor’s balcony dinners and sunset birdsong: the tales of the Syrian refugees we meet in the Intersos missions return fragments of lost lives to us. Existences once marked by family ties, friendships, small habits and daily pleasures.
Ali, Areej, Saleha, Ahmad, Alima and Noor now live in Jordan, in the area of the capital Amman. Ten years have passed since the beginning of the war, in March 2011. And for the millions of refugees who have found hospitality in neighboring countries, these ten years (or almost, depending on the moment of their flight from their country) have been marked by impossibility of returning (for fear of safety conditions, and then: return to what?) and by the effort to restore shape, meaning, stability to broken lives. To rediscover a “normality”, in a condition that has very little of “normal”.
June 20, World Refugee Day, reminds us that the number of people forced to flee their country has steadily increased in recent years, fueled by deep, protracted and unsolved crises. Many of these people have been in a suspended condition for years now, between memories of past lives and a new life that does not yet exist. Even in a close, culturally similar context, such as the Jordanian one, in a community that in recent years has done so much to guarantee hospitality to almost a million refugees, one feels more or less welcome guests, one comes to terms with new ones, pressures, needs and rights denied.
Ali, 50, and his wife Areej, 40, are parents of 7 children, 5 boys and 2 girls. In Syria they owned a large country house in the southern area of the Aleppo Governorate, a large flock and a lot of land to cultivate. A life of work, but comfortable. “Our village was completely razed to the ground,” says Areej. “My mother, my father and my brother were killed in front of my eyes and the corpses were mutilated in hands and legs. Another brother fled and I have not heard from him since. ” “We also fled – adds Ali – I was injured and one of our children lost his sight. We had to carry it on our shoulders until we reached Jordan ”. Like his wife, Ali has also lost contact with his family. Most of all he suffers from not hearing from his mother, with whom he has not spoken for eight years. Today, they found a place to live with the help of an old friend. They don’t have the money to pay for the light. They get by with small daily jobs, by piece rate.
In recent years, INTERSOS operators have followed thousands of these stories, and have observed their transformation. From the urgencies of the first reception to the needs of a prolonged stay: the legal documentation and the recognition of identity, starting with the new born in a foreign territory, access to the health system and other basic services, the school reintegration of a whole generation.
Noor is a 39-year-old woman. In Syria, he worked for a private hospital. His beautiful house, 185 square meters with a garden in the green region of Ghuta, was also destroyed by bombing. “I have the best memories of my life left: the birth of my first child, the gifts, the holidays, the absence of fear or economic worries. They could go out for a walk at night and feel safe ”. Then, one day, while walking to the pharmacy with a friend, Noor’s husband is surrounded by gunmen. The friend is killed on the spot, the husband taken away, detained and tortured. When the family finally collects the money to pay the ransom, they decide to flee together to Jordan. It takes two weeks to cross the border after being pushed back from one border post to another. “I have lost my land, my home, my friends and neighbors and all our money – Noor reflects – I have lost my good memories. Now my life is marked by the worry of not being able to pay the rent, the bills and all the expenses we have. Some time ago, three men tried to kidnap one of my daughters, and now I’m afraid for them ”.
Memories can often chase you, until they take your breath away. For this reason, an important component of the humanitarian intervention is dedicated to psychological and social support. “One morning I was watching my children play with a group of children in the front garden, when the grenades began to explode – says Halima – I saw a grenade explode near a child, and the child fidgeted for a minute stunned, before fall dead. I saw my neighbors daughter killed in front of my eyes. I ran in search of my children, I was desperate, I was terrified that they were dead. I searched for them for now and in chaos until someone called me and told me they had managed to escape and were fine. So I picked up a suitcase of clothes and left my home forever ”.
The stampede, leaving behind all one’s life and belongings at any moment, unites the fate of many of the refugees we assist. “The bombs began to fall, the air filled with smoke, I collected a few things and fled with my five children – remembers Saleha – When we left and I turned to look at my house, a large duplex apartment where I lived with my brother-in-law’s family, was already in ruins ”. From that moment a small odyssey begins: from one village to another in Syria, then towards the Jordanian border, then the large Zaatari refugee camp, up to a new “home” in a tent in one of the many informal settlements. “It was like fleeing from one death to another”.
For many of the people we care for, the last few years have passed slowly and without change, amidst stubborn resilience and growing hardship. Saleha, left by her husband and forced to start over, sending her underage children to work until she met the operators of Intersos. Halima, who still has her husband, but without a job, and must try to keep the family going by doubling the work inside and outside the home. Or Ahmad, a good dad: he, a clothing designer, tried. In Jordan, he started working in a clothing store again, but found himself being blackmailed by the landlord’s son and is now afraid to go out with his children. Identifying vulnerabilities also means seeking answers to those negative adaptation mechanisms that are the direct consequence of them: forced and early marriages, child labor, and in general the acceptance of degrading working conditions, often the only answer capable of guaranteeing sufficient resources. to feed their family unit.
This story doesn’t have a happy ending, and maybe it doesn’t have an ending. There are constant improvements, and unresolved problems. If anything, what World Refugee Day reminds us every year is the constant tension between the apparent irreversibility of historical processes and the resilience of human beings who struggle for their dignity. It is the decision that each of us makes, choosing which side to take.