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Middle East

Syrian refugees struggle to survive in Jordan's capital

media A demonstration against rising gas prices in Amman last year Reuters/Majed Jaber

As many as 300,000 Syrians have fled to Jordan as opposition forces fight to topple President Bashar al-Assad. Two refugee camps have been opened but three times as many Syrians live in the capital, Amman.

In a bare house in the centre of Amman, a refugee describes her situation to a visiting aid worker.

Having crossed the border into Jordan with her husband and children, they were housed in the Garden Camp, a holding centre before refugees are moved to Zaatari.

“The situation in the camp is extremely difficult,” she says. “If any food comes in on a truck, you have to fight for it. We started to contact people in Jordan to send someone who could bail us out. Sometimes they even prevented us from approaching the fence around the camp.”

Wanting to remain anonymous, she explains that they paid a stranger 100 Jordanian dinars (105 euros) to sign as their guarantor, allowing them to leave the camp.

While some of their furniture was donated by Jordanian neighbours, not everyone is sympathetic to the refugees.

“This house is the cheapest that we could find,” she says. “But maybe it’s worth less than 100 dinars- the man renting it saw that we were Syrian and raised the price.”

Her husband now works illegally in a car wash, as she struggles with daily life outside Syria. She says she doesn’t want to think of the possibility that they will have to stay in Jordan.

Her sister, who lives upstairs, is also worried.

“We need basic things, like gas for heating, or warm winter clothes for our children,” she points out.” We are both worried that our husbands will not be able to continue working.”

Fuel shortages have recently led to price rises in Jordan, a problem that has made winter even harder for the refugees. They receive occasional care packages of food from the UN and other charities, but they say it is not enough to sustain them.

“Refugees are bailed out of the camps for two reasons,” says Massara Srass works of the Syrian Women’s Association, a charity set up by Syrians in Amman.

“One is that they are sick or injured, or their children are. The other is that they simply want a better life outside the camp, as it’s very tough in there? But usually they find that living in the city is just as hard if not harder than being in Zaatari, although for different reasons.”

Jordan is now implementing a new system of registering urban refugees, but, Srass explains , they may fear to register with the authorities as the information could leak back into Syria and endanger their or their families’ lives.

“The problem for most of the Syrians that we see is that they need a work permit, which more often than not is denied to them,” she says. “This means that if they do manage to find work, it’s on the black market, which means they are often threatened because the work is illegal.The refugees who do manage to find work on average receive a sum of around 250 Jordanian dinars a month, which they pay in rent and transport, leaving them with nothing. As they came here with nothing, this leaves them no money for food or other things, which is where charities like ours come in.”

One thing that all refugees spoke of was their hope of a swift end to the conflict that would allow them to return home soon.

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