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Jordan: refugees from Syria struggle to adjust
October 03, 2012

Jordan: refugees from Syria struggle to adjust
Nadim and his mother, Manal, look on as Nadim's younger brother shows off his musical talents by chanting a Sura (chapter) from the Quran. Their humble accommodation is a far cry from the home they left behind 14 months ago, Amman, Jordan (Dominik Asbach)
The Ministry of Education has created a policy whereby all Syrians should be allowed access to schools. However the reality on the ground is that many principals are sending Syrians away because they simply don't have space, or there is confusion over the policy. In terms of education, Jordan urgently needs support with resources and capacity. ~ JRS Jordan Director Colin Gilbert.

(Amman) October 3, 2012 – "We had a big tree in our yard, that's what I miss most from our home in Homs," said 13-year-old Nadim, smiling as he described his former home in Syria. Although now safe, 15 months after their arrival in Jordan Nadim's family is still struggling to come to terms with the hardship of displacement.

As we sipped sweet tea made by Nadim's mother, Manal, the family talked to us about a time before violence intruded their peaceful lives. 

"I used to love having my friends over for brunch, we'd all dress up and spend the morning together in the courtyard while the children were at school", said Manal, portraying a vivid image of her former home, with its living rooms, courtyard, bedrooms and rooftop.

At the mention of the rooftop, the youngest of five children, Omar leapt to his feet to demonstrate how he used to play football on the roof. Looking around, it is clear there is nowhere to play any kind of sports here.

"My house was typical of the Arab architecture of the old city; it was beautiful compared to this. My friends, my family, everyone could easily gather in my house," Manal said with pride.

She gestured forlornly at the scant furnishings in the cramped room that seemed a far cry from the home she had just conjured from memory. Her yearning for what she has left behind is almost tangible, a presence in the room with us. The family now rents a two-roomed apartment in a working-class neighborhood of Amman.

The road to their house is a narrow alley way, strewn with litter and pools of stagnant water. At the end of the alley way, a plastic sheet obscures a doorway, behind which Manal was waiting to welcome us. Despite their poor living conditions, Manal and her children exuded a positive energy, happy to receive us in their home.

"My husband is not here because he started a new job today, thanks be to God," said Manal.

A former factory owner in Homs, her husband has struggled to find any kind of job in Amman. This new job is at a restaurant helping with pastry-making.

"It's better than nothing."

Leaving Syria. Given the rate of refugee arrivals was relatively low in 2011, compared to the enormous influx in 2012, we asked Manal why they chose to leave Syria more than one year ago.

In the midst of fighting near her home in Homs, she went to the school to pick the children up, but Nadim was not there. He had been kidnapped. Held in a room, fortunately Nadim managed to escape through a small window and make his way home.

"Those were the worst, longest hours of my life… not knowing where he was".

Silent for many days afterwards, Nadim was unable to explain exactly what had happened and the family was never able to ascertain neither the identity of the perpetrators nor their motive.

"The next day there was a dead body in the school yard – that was enough for me. We packed some suitcases and left two days later. We came in a minivan directly to Amman".

Looking at Nadim now, it is hard to imagine him being silent and suffering from trauma. He plays – fights – with his younger brother while chattering to us about school, his life in Homs and his favorite hobbies – especially karate.

However, when we asked him if he or his siblings had made friends at school, the response was an emphatic 'no'.

"We play in one corner during break-time and all the Jordanians play together. There are five of us in my school from Syria, and we just talk to each other. They don't like us," he said.

Schooling for Syrians. This was not the first time we had heard this. Although Syrian children are allowed to enroll free of charge in public schools in Jordan, the atmosphere within the schools is not always ideal. Accounts from Syrian families in contact with Jesuit Refugee Service staff vary. Some children complain of discrimination; others seem to have settled in and made Jordanian friends. With scarce resources and increasing demand, tensions between communities are inevitable.

"The Ministry of Education has created a policy whereby all Syrians should be allowed access to schools. However the reality on the ground is that many principals are sending Syrians away because they simply don't have space, or there is confusion over the policy. In terms of education, Jordan urgently needs support with resources and capacity," said JRS Jordan Director Colin Gilbert.

One last wish. Before we left, we asked Manal what she wanted most, her answer was simple.

"To go back to Syria, to Homs, to my home."

But she is realistic about the situation.

"I miss Syria very much, but I know it's better for the children to stay here in Jordan. There are no bombs, no fighting and no kidnappings. They're healthy and able to go to school; this is the most important thing for them right now."

Whether these children grow up to realize their full potential depends a lot on the education and other services available to them and their families. While JRS is conducting a needs assessment with a view to expanding its services to include kindergarten and remedial classes, the reality is much more needs to be done. Organizations and the Jordanian authorities need more resources, until then Nadim will continue to be one of the lucky ones.

by Zerene Haddad, Communications Officer, JRS Middle East and North Africa