World Refugee Day 2021

Today is World Refugee Day (20 June 2021). There are more refugees in the world today than there were at the end of the Second World War. Yet, the rise of populist, rightwing politics across the West means that refugees are being turned away. In recent years, I went on refugee solidarity trips to Calais, France to help refugees stranded there. In 2013, I travelled to Jordan to help Syrian and Palestinian refugees. Below, I have reproduced my blog of that memorable journey.

“In July 2013, I took part in an amazing journey to Jordan to give financial assistance to Palestinian and Syrian refugees. I raised money from friends and family and set off with 10 other friends from Dubai, where I was living at the time. Below is an account of our two days in Jordan.

Day 1 – Friday 19 July 2013: We set off in the morning for Mafraq, a small town 80km north of Amman to distribute donations to widows, single mothers and orphans who have fled Syria since the uprising began in 2011. Close to the Syrian border, Mafraq is one of the poorest parts of Jordan. Although its population is 70,000 strong, it now had over 100,000 Syrian refugees. 

Palestinian children in Jerash Gaza Camp

We arrived at a community hall where the Jordanian Association for Orphans and Widows Care had pre-selected 250 Syrian women to receive donations. We gave each woman a sealed envelope with 50 Jordanian dinars (enough to live on for 2 months).

We then made our way to a small village called Turrah. It is 3km from the Syrian border. A local NGO invited a group of Syrian men and women to receive donations from us. Aid agencies and UN did not reach this very remote village. The money that we gave out was the first donation of any kind that they received. Aided by local volunteers, we made a number of home visits to Syrian refugees to give out donations. They were living in extremely overcrowded conditions. For example, we visited two families of 14 people who were sharing a two-bedroom flat. There were no beds – just mattresses lying on the floor. Local Jordanians accommodated Syrian refugees by sub-letting rooms in their homes or building makeshift extensions. Most people had arrived from Syria within the last few months. 

We made a stop at the open border between Syria and Jordan in the village of Turrah. It was guarded by Jordanian army. In the distance, you could see Syria. Minarets and domes of mosques and buildings were clearly visible. It was a surreal moment for me. I was in Syria back in 2000 learning Arabic and it has a special place in my heart.

Day 2 – Saturday 20 July 2013: We made our way to Jerash Gaza camp, which had 40,000 people living in it within one square kilometre. It was set up in 1967 and successive generations have been born and raised there. Palestinians living in this camp had no official status. They did not have identity cards and therefore not considered to be citizens. They could not access health, education or any other services. Their existence was very much as second class citizens.

Jerash Children’s Nursery

Our first stop was at the Jerash children’s nursery which was run by volunteers. Children were aged between four and eight. I spoke to one volunteer who taught them English so that they could learn to use the internet and be exposed to the outside world. We gave an envelope with a donation to 50 children as gift for the upcoming eid ul fitr.

We then visited the Green Crescent Society, a charity that runs a number of projects in the camp. Khaled Abdullah, the General Manager explained that the two key priorities for their projects were health and education. Palestinians living in the camp could tolerate poverty and lack of food, but serious illness often proved much more difficult to handle. We were told that an individual died in the past 10 days because of a lack of proper medical treatment. Education was important because it gave them hope that they could break out of the cycle of poverty and destitution.

Khaled Abdullah outlined a number of projects where they needed funds. We chose three projects to help with our donations. First, a home nursing project which had six nurses visiting homes in groups of two. Second, a number of students needed to pay off their outstanding university fees so that they could graduate and receive their certificates. They had been working in fruit and vegetable stalls or doing unskilled jobs, because they had not officially graduated. Finally, a project to support orphans.Our final stop was at a community hall where the Green Crescent Society had invited 400 men, women and a substantial number of students to receive donations from us. They were the most needy in the camp. I sat in the audience and engaged with a number of students.

Ahmed Sa’ad recently finished school and was looking forward to starting university in September to study business and IT. Husam Muhammad, a local Imam was studying Shari’ah at university. Mus’ab Al-Kurdi was in third year of university studying Arabic language and literature. They were intelligent young men and very humble at the same time. They were driven by ambition, but paying tuition fees was a constant worry for them.

After distributing cash donations in the community hall, we returned to Amman.I left Amman for Dubai on Saturday 20 July 2013 at night having spent two incredible days in Jordan. Three of our friends stayed behind. They visited a camp for Syrians of Palestinian origin on Sunday 21 July 2013. These were Palestinian refugees in Syria and had now become refugees for the second time in Jordan. They also visited a camp for undocumented Syrian refugees – they were not registered by the UN’s refugee agency and as such had no official status as refugees in Jordan.” 

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