International Rescue Committee (IRC)

From Syria to Jordan: Refugees escaping conflict

There are seven of them, packed into a two-room apartment in the Jordanian border city of Ramtha. Their living room is multipurpose, serving also as their dining room and bedroom.  Five thin camping mats are couches or beds, depending on the time of day.  Sheets hang over the windows, and a couple of ironed shirts dangle on hangers from a clothesline. A small color television sits on the floor, tuned either to Al-Arabia or Al-Jazeera, where the top stories focus on news from home.

For the four members of the Khattib* family, home is not this two-room flat they share with another couple. Nor is it Jordan. It’s the city of Dera’a in neighboring Syria — only 30 crow miles but a world away. 

The Khattibs fled their home in Syria last November. They’d withstood almost eight months of fighting, electrical and water cuts, and threats. Muhammad says half his family has been arrested in Syria, while the rest are on the run. He says he himself had been picked up five times by Syrian secret police, before he fled. The final straw was when police threatened his wife and seven year old son in their home. He climbed on a minibus with his wife and two children, and like so many others Syrians who could take no more, headed for the border.

While it may be hard to understand, the Khattibs consider themselves comparatively fortunate.  They were able to cross the border legally, and didn’t have to bribe their way across with a payment to Syrian customs officers. Today, those trying to flee a year of conflict tell of families broken up at the border, with some members allowed to cross, and others forced to stay behind. They speak of bribes to Syrian border guards increasing tenfold in the past four months. There’s talk of dangerous night crossings through the desert, trying to avoid snipers on the Syrian side.

Sabeen is seven months pregnant, and worries about giving birth in Jordan. While the Jordanian government has opened its schools and hospitals to the refugees, this is not home. She’s reluctant to go to a clinic for prenatal care. “It’s so difficult,” she says, her eyes welling with tears. “We live a life of misery. Every day my five year old asks when we’re going home.”  The former teacher laments the condition of the apartment as well. “We have to watch our finances,” she says. “We can afford water only twice a week, so it’s hard to take a shower and stay clean.” Like most refugees here, the Khattibs pay for a tanker truck to fill a rooftop water cistern. Since they live in an eight-apartment building with shared water, all must contribute equally to have it delivered. And since all are refugees on a strict budget, their water deliveries are growing more infrequent.  Their rent is climbing too. When they moved here they paid the equivalent of $70 monthly, now, with refugee demand for housing increasing, their landlord is demanding almost $150.

The family's diet is built around macaroni, because that’s what they're receiving as food aid from a local Islamic relief agency. They eat macaroni for lunch, and then again for dinner.  “You know,” says Muhammad. “When I take my family out for a walk in the streets, we walk past shops filled with candy and toys. We’re good parents, and want to give our children all they need, but I must say no so often.“  Most refugees are not allowed to work, because jobs are already tight in Jordan.

The Khattibs don’t know when they’ll be able to return home; fighting resumed between government troops and rebels in Dera’a a couple of weeks ago.  “At this rate, we can only afford to stay for two more months,” says 37-year-old Muhammad with a sigh. “I have no idea what we’ll do next.”   

Names have been changed and identifying information removed to protect the family

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