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Syrian refugee crisis: Life among the stones
Abbotsford News editor Andrew Holota is reporting on the Syrian refugee crisis in Jordan and Lebanon this week, with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB), one of the nation's largest non-governmental aid organizations. It has been funding refugee relief in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria since the summer. CFGB is a partnership of 15 churches and church agencies, partnering with a number of NGOs in Jordan and Lebanon, assisting them with funding to deliver aid.
Abbotsford is an important donor community for CFGB, which receives 4-1 Canadian government matching funds and partners with other NGOs such as World Renew in Canada and around the world to deliver food aid.
Twelve tents are pitched on a narrow patch of boulder-strewn, stony ground on the side of a potholed road.
There is no water, no shade – no facilities of any kind.
For Abdul, 32, and his two wives and six children, along with 60-some other people, this is home.
They’ve been there for seven months, and their previous location was worse – the Zataari refugee camp, which Abdul describes as full of disease and trouble.
He gathered his family and fled Syria for reasons familiar to virtually all Syrian refugees – the violence of war.
He tells his story through interpreter Ra’ed Haddadd, project manager for World Renew, which is providing food aid to about 1,000 families – 6,000 people – in the Irbid area, through funding from the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.
“If he needs to just go out to buy bread, they can catch him. ‘Either you work for us, or we kill you.’”
Abdul is referring to forces from both the government and rebels. He refused to work with any of the fighters, because his brothers are in the Syrian army.
It was not a choice he wanted to make, and the family fled to Jordan.
The Jordanian police put everyone on buses to the refugee camp in Zataari, which is presently home to 150,000 to 160,000 people. Abdul says the camp is plagued with problems. Rebels burn tents, and carry out rapes. There are serious diseases among the occupants.
They stayed only five months, and then packed their UN tents and trekked south for a better site.
“If I don’t die in the war, I will die in the camps,” he tells Haddadd.
Abdul registered his family with the UNHCR last year, but has received no aid yet, he says.
The only food he gets is from World Renew, run by the Christian Reformed Church, and funded since the summer by Canadian Foodgrains Bank.
The food donations, which are provided once a month, are critical to the family’s survival.
The main problem they have is water, which they have to buy.
(Photo) Abdul el-Razek, 32, holds his 15-month-old son Mahdi. He lives in a tent camp on the outskirts of Irbid in Jordan with 2 wives and six children.
“We are feeling good to have this aid and help from you. It’s the best thing for God to have somebody like you giving us this because we cannot find it any other place,” said Abdul.
If the food donations did not exist? Abdul shrugs and says, “I can cut pieces from my body for my family.”
Although it’s illegal for refugees to work in Jordan, Abdul has found occasional labour jobs for farmers in the olive season. The police have caught him twice, once with one of his wives, and sent him off to Zataari. He came back to Irbid both times.
The nine-member family lives in two connected tents from the United Nations – each about three by eight metres. The floor consists of carpets, and the canvas shelter will be heated by a diesel or oil heater this winter. The unit will cost $100 to $150 to buy initially, with fuel consuming about $60 per month of precious funds.
Bizarrely, there is a TV in the corner – donated by a Jordanian family – as is a satellite dish and a generator, which is used to provide power to several of the tents. It is the main source of entertainment for the children, for whom there is no school. They spend their days playing in the dirt, or watching TV, during the limited times when the generator is running.
Hadad says the conditions are of a “medium” standard for refugees in tents. At the low end of the scale are tents with holes, no carpets on the floor, and a lack of mattresses, blankets and no heater.
A car salesman in his former life, Abdul says he will “absolutely” go back to Syria if there is peace, but in the meantime he’s trying to find somewhere else – another country. Any country, he says, but he likes Canada, because it has plentiful, good water.
As for who is in power when the fighting eventually ends, Abdul doesn’t care.
He just wants safety for him and his family, and to visit his neighbours “without fear of bombing or anything else.”
The children of Abdul el-Razek are Syrian refugees living on the outskirts of the city of Irbid in Jordan, about 40 kilometres from the Syrian border. The family left Syria following the outbreak of civil war after el-Razek refused to join either rebel or Syrian forces.
For more information on the CFGB visit www.foodgrainsbank.ca
For more information on World Renew visit www.worldrenew.net