Syria’s Invisible Urban Refugees
More than 80 percent of Syrians who fled to Jordan live outside the camps
Suleiman Fais recalled the moment he had to flee Syria for his life. “The shells were falling near me. Then shells started to fall on buildings all around us,” he said. “A bulldozer came and demolished all the houses in the area. And my house was already destroyed by a tank’s shell. That forced me to escape.”
From Syria, Suleiman and his family made their way to the sprawling, overcrowded Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan. Then they went to Amman where they are now “urban refugees,” according to the United Nations’ terminology.
“A lot of times we call the urban refugees the ‘invisible refugees’ because they do register but then they’re out there to fend for themselves,” Tala Kattan, a U.N. Refugee Agency representative, told War Is Boring.
More than 80 percent of Syrian refugees in Jordan do not live in camps, but cities and towns. Most do not have work permits, which are required to work in the country legally.
But put their situation into perspective. Would you want to live in a camp out in the desert for months — or years?
“Guantanamo is better for us,” Suleiman said, laughing. “It’s bad. We can’t find food or water. There’s no power except with Allah.”
Kattan stressed an important point. The refugees were living normal lives, which the war violently upended. “No one chooses to be a refugee,” she said. “A lot of these people lived normal lives, had a beautiful home, and went to school, just like any other family across the world. And they were forced to flee because of the circumstances.”
Suleiman eventually wants to return to Syria.
“We live here [in Amman] but we are not comfortable,” he said. “If more Syrians come here, they won’t feel comfortable. When I walk in the street and greet people with ‘Peace be upon you,’ they just frown at me.”