Abu Anas greets the newcomers with a warm smile. The Syrian family -- mother, father and two sons -- just arrived here in Amman, Jordan, two weeks ago. When the bombing became unbearable, they left their home in Syria. They fled at night, without much time to pack their scarce belongings. And now they are here in CARE's Syria refugee center, asking for help. Abu Anas leads the parents to a row of seats, where several Syrian families are already waiting. The two sons look curiously around the room, shyly observing the large number of Syrians refugees: those who wait quietly on the black chairs for their turn; others, who crowd around the small counter where Abu Anas and his colleagues register the new arrivals, listen to their stories and explain how CARE can support them. A telephone constantly rings in the background, manned by a CARE volunteer answering inquiries and giving directions to the center. A room full of refugees, who share the experience of violence, bombing and killings in their Syrian home towns, who had to leave everything behind. Who lost family members, friends or neighbors in the bitter conflict.
Photo: Sandra Bulling/CARE
Since the conflict in Syria broke out almost two years ago, Jordan is receiving an endless stream of Syrian refugees. In January alone, more than 60,000 people arrived in the small desert kingdom. While a large number of refugees seek shelter at the overcrowded refugee camps, the majority head to the poor suburbs of Amman, Mafraq, or Irbid. They spend all their savings on rent and basic household items and now struggle to feed and house their families.
A few suitcases, a small saving
Abu Anas cannot but sympathize with the Syrians who come here -- as he is a refugee himself. "I left Homs, my hometown, one year ago. A bullet flew through the window of my son's room, the glass shattered on the floor. Luckily, my son was not in the room. This was the moment when I realized we need to leave. It had become too dangerous," Abu Anas says. He fled Homs with his wife, Abir, and his five children by bus, crossing into Jordan with a few suitcases full of clothes and the small savings they had. "We came to Amman because we had friends here, who let us stay at their house for a few weeks. Then I found an apartment for us in the outskirts of East Amman."
Abu Anas' family had found safety, but the violence followed them in their dreams. "My children had terrible nightmares. My daughter Marwa was so scared she did not want me to leave the apartment. She screamed and locked the door, because she feared I would never return. My youngest son would not come close to the window, he was afraid another bullet would hit again," Abu Anas remembers his first months in Jordan. "However, the refugees who are arriving now are even worse off than we are. There are no jobs in Syria anymore, so they have had no income for many months, they have lost all their assets and experienced the worst violence one cannot imagine."
Today, one year later, Marwa's nightmares have slowly subsided, yet Abu Anas' concerns for the well-being of his family remain. He pays a rent of 180 Jordanian Dinar (190 euro) per month, but he does not know how to afford a roof over the head of his family any longer. His savings are gone. He is not allowed to work and earn his living in Jordan. He used to be a French teacher in Syria, with a degree from the University of Homs. "Now, I depend on the assistance of others," he says, assistance from organizations such as CARE, the UN Refugee Agency and others.
Helping other refugees
When friends told Abu Anas of CARE's Syrian refugee center, he immediately visited the large beige building in a poor suburb of Amman, hoping to find help there. "Not only did I receive cash assistance, I also applied to help as a volunteer," he says. "My son Anas and I both help the CARE staff to register and assist other Syrians. CARE gives each of us a small allowance to help with transport and other costs." When Abu Anas's family fled Homs, 18-year-old Anas was just about to finish high school. "His work at CARE keeps him distracted and busy, but I worry about his future," his concerned father says. Like him, young Anas patiently listens to the new arrivals and helps CARE staff to register, distribute cash and relief items such as mattresses, blankets and heaters or refer them to other social services. A young and talented man, he has lost his future in violence-torn Syria.
Since CARE Jordan opened its Syrian refugee center in East Amman at the end of last year, more than 11,000 people have come to seek help. They need cash to pay rent and buy household items and they need health support and psychological assistance to overcome their traumatic experience in Syria. With more funding, CARE hopes to replicate this successful model and open refugee centers in other cities, to reach those who are trying to survive on their own.
"On some days, we receive whole busloads of refugee families who venture out here from other Jordanian cities and who have heard of our center from friends and relatives," explains Abu Anas. One day, the center was so overcrowded, he started to organize refugees in two long orderly lines, one for men and one for women. He is a teacher who wants to assist others, provide safety for his family and a future for his children. He is also a man, who is torn between surviving in a foreign country and rebuilding his life, yet hoping to return to Syria, his home. "Once the killing has stopped, we will go back. But not before," he says.