Syria Through the Eyes of an Arab Jordanian

By Sammy Abdulrahim

As the New Year arrived, the Syrian Crisis entered the fifth year of its genesis. With a UN estimate of 6.5 million dis- placed within Syria and 3 million fleeing refugees, no near end is in sight. Older teenagers and adults, however, reminisce to a time of malaise when the Jordanian capital (Amman) was a mere two hours’ drive from the Syrian borders. It was not uncommon for Jordanians, Lebanese and Arabs of other nationalities to spend their weekends in Syria exploring its farmlands, visiting its old shops or touring its archaic landmarks. My own family used to take road trips to Syria, even reaching Turkey. These trips seem incongruous now considering the infeasibility of crossing a war torn country.

Nonetheless, failing tourism is the smallest of concerns right now. I grew up in a Jordan that had a population of roughly 5.5 million people, and even then the country had little in the way of natural resources to support its growth. In point of fact, Jordan is now the world’s second water-poorest country. The scarcity of resources once obtained from Egypt and Syria falter the country’s progression and stop it from reaching its sought after goal of self-dependence. The population of Jordan could not sustain itself even before the crisis commenced. Over the last five years, 1.5 million Syrian refugees fled to Jordan causing a twenty-five percent influx in the small country’s population. In 2016, one in three inhabitants of Jordan is a refugee including Palestinians, Syrians, Iraqis, Libyans and Yemenis among other nationalities. Not only are these refugees creating a heavy demographic burden, the conditions the refugees themselves live in are beyond miserable. Many of the refugees arrive with serious medical conditions, thus occupying much needed hospital beds. Moreover, most of the refugees are hauled into refugee camps where the youth and adults cannot work but have to sustain their families, thus constraining them within a legal state of limbo.

Most famed among these camps is the notorious Zaatari refugee camp located in the Mafraq Governorate of Jordan. The camp’s inhabiting populous suffers repeatedly from the lack of sufficient food supplies and better accommodation. And without an official police force of sorts, crimes of violence, drug dealing and prostitution have gradually risen. In addition, the geography of Mafraq has not helped. An open desert, Zaatari has suffered over the years from heat waves, winter snows and severe rain floods that have led to multiple evacuations. The refugee camp now houses 80,000 refugees making it the fourth largest city in the country. And although living conditions are well below acceptable, life there is beginning to stabilize. According to the Telegraph the camp has, “a pizza delivery service, a coffee shop selling shisha and a street named Champs-Elysée.” This newly found stability may seem like a ray of hope for the Syrian refugees, but personal and mutual experience proves otherwise. My own family is originally a Palestinian refugee family that fled to Jordan after the Palestinian-Israeli conflict erupted in 1948. Many family members lived in one of twelve Palestinian refugee camps that were set up by the UNRWA. These camps, like every other camp established in the Middle East, were intended to be a temporary solution until the refugees could return home or were given citizenship or residency. In reality, these camps are now bustling urban slums and ghettos that have transformed into permanent cities and districts in their own rights. The fear lies in the transformation of Zaatari into one of these camps. With no end in sight to the growth of the camp or the crisis itself, the situation may seem helpless from where we stand as college students.

But what if each one of us Middlebury students can help? There have been many college-based organizations like Amnesty International aimed at helping these refugees. But to create a bigger impact, we have launched a petition (Go/Refuge), in collaboration with Jordan University, aimed at creating a minimum quota of refugees to be admitted to Middlebury College. With every extra signature we get, we are one step closer to helping those in need even in our Vermont remoteness.

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