“I don’t mind where, I’ll go”: Syrians in Jordan wait for resettlement
By Fatoun a-Sheikh and Justin Clark
About a year ago, 31-year-old Eyad got a call from the United Nations. After three years of living as a refugee in Jordan, he and his family were selected for resettlement in the United States.
Eyad, a graduate of Damascus University and father of two, jumped at the opportunity. He filled out stacks of paperwork, attended interview after interview, and doctors examined him and his family.
Despite his university education, the lack of opportunities in Jordan pushed Eyad to work illegally at a grocery store to support his wife and two daughters, Lara and Leen.
Getting caught working illegally could be disastrous for Syrians in Jordan—jail time, or even deportation could have threatened Eyad’s bid for resettlement in the US.
“When they offered us asylum in the US, I stopped working without a second thought,” Eyad tells the Syrian Voice. “But now, I’m raising a family and I can’t make ends meet.”
Though he hopes life will be better in the US, he’s not sure when he’ll be able to leave Jordan. Eyad, like other Syrians, is trapped in limbo—he can’t return to Syria, but can’t plant roots in the country he lives in.
Even for the few who are granted asylum in the West, adapting to their new lives can be a life-long challenge.
“Life isn’t all sunshine and roses”
Kawthar Muhammad, 35, lived in Jordan for four years after fleeing her native Damascus with her family. Six months ago, Kawthar and her family moved to Canada.
During her time in Jordan her father became ill, requiring expensive monthly treatments the family could hardly afford. In Canada, they now have healthcare and the right to work legally.
“In the beginning, we were scared to travel,” Kawthar tells the Syrian Voice. “We didn’t know much about the life we were headed towards, but we didn’t have much of a choice.”
“We lived below the poverty line in Jordan,” she says. “There was no way to make our lives better.”
Kawthar has a pharmacy degree from Damascus University, but she can’t work in her field. For now, she and her sister work in a small coffee house and take English courses.
“Life isn’t all sunshine and roses here,” says Muhammad. “But it’s better than other options.”
For the over 600,000 Syrians registered with UNHCR (The United Nations Higher Commission for Refugees) in Jordan, options are limited. Even resettlement is a complicated process punctuated by uncertainty and waiting.
UNHCR selects candidates for resettlement, and refugees cannot specifically request that they be considered. For Syrians in Jordan, it means waiting for a phone call that may never come.
Abu Amer fled to Jordan two years ago after a bomb destroyed his house in Homs province. He’s lost family to the conflict—two of his brothers—but brought his wife and children with him to Amman
“I left Syria, and everything else behind to protect my kids,” he tells the Syrian Voice. “Today, I’m worried about their future. It makes me think more about travelling abroad.”
His daughter works as a teacher in one of Amman’s private schools, but her salary hardly covers transportation to and from work, says Abu Amer. His oldest son is set to finish high school at the end of the year. But with tuition pricy, he can’t pay his kids through university.
“If he doesn’t get a scholarship, he’ll follow in my footsteps and start working,” he says.
“Maybe their opportunities abroad would be better?”
“Breaking up the family”
Ahmad, originally from Daraa province, came to Jordan with his wife and kids three years ago. A young man in his twenties, he’s what some might call lucky; he was selected for resettlement.
When the UN called him two months ago to tell him the good news, he told them he didn’t want to go.
“When we moved to Jordan, it was just the first step in breaking up our family,” Ahmad tells the Syrian Voice. “Now, part of the family can travel but the rest would have to stay—we’d have to split the family even more.”
Ahmad also worries about his children. If they leave the Arab world, he’s concerned they might lose their traditions and culture if they’re an ocean’s away from their relatives.
Dr. Abdelkarim Khader, a Jordanian psychiatrist who works with Syrian refugees, understands why some might refuse resettlement abroad.
“The Syrian refugee goes through an identity crisis that worsens with time”, Dr. Khader says. “When groups of people are displaced to other countries, they hold on to traditions and rituals that keep their identities alive.”
Children carry the heaviest burden to protect their culture, Dr. Khader explains. If displaced young, they struggle to reconcile their parents’ heritage with the new culture they are adapting to—a painful process that families can have difficulty with.
Still, it’s a challenge many Syrians are willing to face.
“It doesn’t matter where the plane lands,” says Eyad. “Whether it’s Canada or the US, I’m sure they’ll protect my rights and the rights of my children.”
“I don’t mind where—I’ll go anywhere.”