Jordan strains under weight of Syrian refugees

August 5, 2014

Lisa Beshara David is a marketing/advertising consultant who lives Downtown.

While on holiday in Jordan, I accepted an invitation from my cousin, Wafa Goussous, director at the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) in Jordan, to visit Maru, a refugee village near the Jordan-Syria border. The crisis in Syria has caused a large influx of refugees into Jordan. With the official number of Syrian refugees in Jordan well over 640,000 and many more unregistered, Syrians now make up approximately 9 percent of Jordan’s population.

This refugee influx must be viewed in the larger narrative of Jordan’s hospitality. In 1948, Palestinians were displaced from what is currently Israel, and hundreds of thousands took residency in Jordan. Decades later, Iraqi refugees fled to Jordan after the American invasion in 2003. The sheer number of foreign guests living in the country places an immense amount of stress and tension on Jordan while making it almost impossible to provide for the most basic needs: water, solid waste management, security and education for children.

As we arrived in Maru, we found large crowds gathered in front of the distribution center. Women, children and heads of families had been waiting all morning in the hot sun to hear their family name announced to receive a box of food, school supplies and toys for their children. Some of these individuals were once prosperous merchants in Syria, enjoying the success of their labor and providing a bountiful and dignified life for their families. Now, waiting for hours in air thick with desperation and Middle Eastern heat, their pride was reduced to nothing.

One man, who was displaced in 2012, put his situation and many others into perspective. He said, “Imagine having to flee your home in the middle of the night with only an hour to gather your loved ones and your belongings. Imagine the uncertainty of not knowing whether you will ever return to your home nor whether it will still be there. Imagine the chaos when you discover you are just one family among thousands fleeing for safety.”

As we began the distribution process, the children were first, then women and finally heads of families who would collect boxes of food. Their situation was chaotic, and we quickly realized it was impossible to provide any semblance of order. Some children were crying while others quietly waited in a sea of people, pushed and shoved to the front by the crowd. Some adults pleaded to receive toys for their kids who were not present.

Finally key members of the village helped subdue the crowd, and a MECC volunteer began calling family names from the roster of registered families. Each recipient of aid was required to show a UNHCR asylum certificate and passport. We were assured that those who did not have the correct paperwork received a box of food, but that priority would be given to those carrying the correct paperwork.

Jordan cannot face this challenge alone. And despite the efforts of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other international nongovernmental organizations, the level of unmet need is staggering. Maru is trying to raise money to establish a community center that would train women in handicrafts, provide safe spaces for their children to play and foster the next generation to be capable, open-minded leaders. To learn more about Maru’s goals, visit

I’m not sure what the final step in the journey of the families I met will be. I don’t know if they will return to their home in Syria. What I do know is they have made their journey to Jordan. We can only wish upon them many miracles.


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