After another month of travel, I have finally arrived in Nepal—my last stop. Before arriving in Kathmandu, we had a very impactful experience in Jordan. I am still left with many unanswerable questions and a yearning to do more.
Upon arriving to Amman, our country coordinators told us to “put on our refugee caps.” This was their metaphoric way of saying: Jordan is a country of refugees. You cannot understand the political, economic, and social factors if you do not understand and recognize the refugee situation. Within the first few weeks of the program, we visited Al-Baqaah Camp (the largest and oldest UNRWA Palestinian Refugee Camp), Al-Za’atari Camp (the second largest refugee camp in the world and the largest Syria exodus settlement), and the Al-Hashimi Al-Shamali region (the largest urban settlement of newly arriving Iraqi refugees in Amman).
Visiting Za’atari gave me a critical perspective of the refugee camp conditions and provided meaningful insight on how family structures affected support, security and stability. Food supply coupons were provided based on a formula constructed on age, gender, and necessity. If a family member was missing, the entire family bore the burden of limited resources that could help sustain the entire family. As a result, family structures, which were divided within the camp system or separated between the Syrian and Jordanian border, required their children to engage in labor to generate supplemental income for the family’s day-to-day living expenses. In particular, we met with a mother, her son (13 years old) and daughter (11 years old). They came from the Dara rural area of Syria where the Syrian crisis had started. The husband was a government soldier in Syria, but during the conflict when he retracted his allegiance to Bashar’s regime, he was deserted and sent back to Syria. Consequently, without him as a father figure who primarily earned the income in the family, the son was forced into labor. He pushed carts for 1 Jordanian Dinar for over two kilometers, bearing 50 kilograms of weight. This prevented his access to education because he was burdened with providing for his family. The daughter, when asked about her father cried and could not answer. The mother said, although the daughter has the chance go to school, without money to pay for a uniform she is unable to go. The mother noted that without her husband the family could not survive in the camp much longer.
We also met with Palestinians who escaped in the exoduses of 1948 and 1967. The conditions had marginally improved over the decades and the right to return home was a distant illusion. Food stipends were halved. A single mother we met was struggling to make ends meet for her disabled son and herself. In the Iraqi settlement, the survivors fled the atrocious and inhumane torture from ISIS. One woman accounted that her brother was executed with a nail drilled through his chest. Escape was the only way out of violence.
What is happening in the Middle Eastern region is a huge burden for host nations and conflict nations alike. There is painstakingly clear evidence of genocide, crimes against humanity, etc. There is immense injustice and immeasurable human suffering. Such human rights violations will be tumultuous for progress to occur. How can the international community practice its ‘responsibility to protect’ to stop genocide?
Thank you for reading. I hope all of us can open our minds and comprehend this grave human rights condition and also keep these resilient people in our hearts.
Genocide cannot continue.