Our action for health

Breve - Camp de Zaatari © Dominic Chavez - World Bank

A story of survival, by a Syrian refugee in Jordan


The chaotic story of a Syrian refugee in Jordan is told by Pierre Salignon, project manager at AFD’s Health and Social Protection Division.

Amman, Jordan, April 2017 – When the old man opens the door of the room where he lives with his family, he makes an effort to smile. But immediately has a violent coughing fit. With his heavy cover on his shoulders and after a few days without shaving, he looks exhausted. The only thing that puts a big smile on his now grey face is his 2-year-old daughter who is fidgeting next to her mother on threadbare mattresses placed directly on the floor.He is originally from Homs in Syria and came to Jordan with his family nearly 4 years ago to flee from the war and violence of the regime in Damascus.

Taken hostage
A plumber by trade, he has lost everything. At the time, he was married to another woman, who was killed in the bombing right at the start of the civil war. He has no news of four children from this first marriage who all fled to Turkey. He is now married to the young woman sitting beside him. “She also lost her husband”, he points out. We will subsequently learn that she was detained for a while, “taken hostage”, he goes on to say, for several months, by an armed group. It does not matter which. With modesty, he tells that her detention “was terrible”. When they met, he decided to quickly marry her “to protect her”.
Living conditions had become so hard in Homs that they decided to flee to Jordan. They were hosted at the Zaatari camp in the Jordanian desert for 6 months, then decided to leave and settle in Amman at the risk of being in an illegal situation. “Living conditions were bad at the refugee camp. We didn’t have the right to move around freely”. He will not say any more.

 Camp de Zaatari © Dominic Chavez - World Bank

Assistance from Première urgence internationale
They are now living in the East of the Jordanian capital and manage to get by. He has untreated asthma. She has just given birth to a second child. “We are going to pick him up at the hospital just after lunch” she beams. She does not say anything else. She is discreet, very reserved.
She gave birth following a complicated pregnancy in a hospital in Amman and benefits from assistance from the French NGO Première urgence internationale (PUI). Thanks to financial support from AFD, she was able to pay the fees for the hospitalization and caesarean section. Some USD 500 of “cash for health” which they would not been able to pay up front without getting further into debt. Their debt is currently estimated at about USD 800. And it could well increase. “My wife has epileptic seizures. She has a regular treatment to take which stops her from breastfeeding. We are going to have to buy powdered milk”.

USD 150 a month
The only resources they have are the USD 150 a month they receive from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC), which only allows them to pay the rent for their precarious living area, water and electricity. The food vouchers they receive from the World Food Programme (WFP) barely cover their daily needs. For health, it is even more complicated. The administrative procedures are so complicated that they turn people away from access to healthcare. “Even if I’m told I am entitled to it, I have no treatment for my breathing problems, and I can’t afford to pay for it”, sighs the head of the family between two excruciating wheezes.
The social worker from the NGO Première Urgence Internationale takes notes. Listens carefully. She offers to go with him to High Commissioner for Refugees and refer him to another Jordanian medical partner who may be able to prescribe him an appropriate treatment.
“And the future?” … Everything goes silent. “Look at the state I’m in, I can’t work… she can’t either”. Their little girl smiles while watching a cartoon on a timeless TV. “You know, as long as “Bashar” is there, we won’t go back. He has destroyed everything. We have nothing left. I came here with only the clothes on my back”, he adds. While the expulsions of refugees by the Jordanian authorities are increasing, their life boils down to this unhealthy and damp room, and their relations with refugee neighbors who are also originally from Homs. “We don’t leave the neighborhood unless we need to”. 

No rapid return to Syria
The war in Syria holds out no prospects for a rapid return to their country. The chronic nature of the crisis pulls more and more Syrian refugees into extreme poverty every day, in Jordan like elsewhere in the region. The cycle is known; the longer the crisis lasts, the more the prospect of returning to a decent life becomes remote. Precarious refuge and temporary status. Dependence on assistance, ban on working, rapid indebtedness and child labor. Even prostitution and the development of early marriages, pressure to return home…   
Remains that the assistance program of the NGO Première urgence internationale and its network of Jordanian partners provides Syrian refugees with assistance which, albeit modest, is tailored to individuals and without which they would not be able to cope. AFD feels that this program deserves to be supported and should continue with assistance from the other donors.

Pierre Salignon, Project Manager, Health and Social Protection Division, AFD

For further reading on iD4D: “ Syrian refugees : “Development assistance in Lebanon and Jordan must be unconditional ”, by Haneen Ismail Sayed, World Bank Program Leader for Human Development in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

For further reading on iD4D: “ Refugee crises: supporting the development of host countries is key ”, by Paolo Verme, Senior Economist at the World Bank.

For further reading on iD4D: “ Refugee crisis in Lebanon : the viewpoint of a social enterprise ”, by
Kim Issa External relations manager of arcenciel

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