MY TRIP TO JORDAN: MEETING THE PEOPLE OF AZRAQ
In March 2019 I joined my Plan International family on an eye-opening trip to Jordan as ambassador. I documented by experience on EVOKE.IE. Have a read.
‘I left Syria because of war,’ Alia speaks frankly. ‘My husband and I were both teachers back home but because of the horrible circumstances surrounding the war, we had to flee.’
‘My family and I came to Jordan through Al-Rukban, an area between Jordan and Syria where we stayed for three months. I was pregnant and had to deliver my child there, in the no man’s land.’
‘People usually stay in Al-Rukban for a long time but because of the birth of our baby, my family were granted entry into Jordan. That’s when we came here, to Azraq,’ she explains.
‘It’s hard to forget those feelings of sadness and hopelessness.’
‘My biggest fear leaving our country was that of the complete unknown. I was scared of dying and worried about my children and what would lay ahead.’
Alia’s story is just one of the 40,000+ stories to be heard in Jordan’s Azraq refugee camp; an all-too-real tale of heartbreak and fighting-for-survival.
According to the UN Envoy for Syria, some 400,000 people lost their lives in the first five years of the Syrian Civil War with 13.5 million Syrians displaced worldwide; 600,000 of which are in Jordan, living in three major refugee camps.
Azraq is just one of these camps; a new found home to around 40,615 refugees, 24,369 of which are children.
Here, one in four households are headed by women but Alia is one of the lucky ones who has her husband by her side.
For the mum-of-six, Azraq’s Village Five is a safe haven away from guns, bombs and bloody war but even so, the reminders are everywhere, particularly in the confines of the camp itself.
Village Five is far from a place to seek solace, in fact, life here is bleak for the thousands of refugees who are detained in what is essentially a barbed-wire fenced ‘camp within a camp’ that residents are unable to leave; even to visit relatives in neighbouring villages.
Set up in 2016, Village Five’s purpose is to house Jordan’s thousands of newly arrived Syrian asylum seekers considered a potential security risk to the country.
Following “sufficient” screening and vetting, they will eventually move on but for anyone who finds themselves here, it adds to that already overpowering sense of hopelessness.
EVOKE.IE’s trip inside Village Five was strictly supervised and by no means access-all-areas, but it was enough to give a snapshot of day-to-day life and some of the issues that may arise here.
Alia is ‘one of the first cases’ to arrive in Village Five and despite the circumstances, she made it her mission to find employment within the camp.
‘I couldn’t sit inside my caravan (her tin home) all day,’ she explains.
‘It was important for me to keep working for my children but also for myself. When I sit in the caravan, it makes me really sad and stressed… in fact, I had to change the ceiling of the caravan because I didn’t want to see it any more!’
‘I began working with Plan when they started operating here. I had a certificate in education and plenty of experience so I applied for a job; I was interviewed and thankfully I was chosen!’
‘I spend all my time working. I’m the first one here and am usually the last to leave. Working gives me a positive energy; I communicate with my children, my neighbours, my husband. It gives me purpose.’
Plan International’s work in Village Five is crucial. The organisation provides weekly parenting sessions where mums can share their worries and talk about the challenges that come with raising children in such extreme surroundings. Here, they also learn how to manage their stresses and find support from the community around them.
There are early childhood care and development services too, allowing parents to drop their youngsters off to morning and afternoon sessions, giving them time to queue for the water pump, stock up on groceries from the on-site store or have medical concerns seen too.
For the children, many of whom have PTSD, these sessions provide a fun environment for laughter and learning; for tweens and adolescents there are life skills classes and music sessions, encouraging them to explore new interests and forms of self expression.
Plan International have also been making waves to implement their Plan 2 Inclusivize programme, ensuring all residents with disabilities are included in day-to-day activities.
While these efforts won’t erase the adversity Azraq’s community have endured, they can certainly help make a difficult situation a lot more bearable.
You can read more about our trip to Azraq here.