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In early June, RI visited a clinic in the city of Mafraq in northern Jordan that served refugees along with its regular Jordanian patients. There we met Hala, a woman who had left Syria with her young son. The child’s father had not been able to leave the country, so the two of them had arrived alone and were relying on the goodwill of friends and neighbors to keep them going.
When Hala registered with the UNHCR, she was referred to the clinic because her son had a congenital heart problem that needed attention. As her son squirmed and cried, Hala told us that she came to the clinic frequently for his care, but was not receiving any other assistance. Friends occasionally gave her food, blankets, or a bit of money, but it wasn’t enough. She said that soon she would be thrown out onto the street by her landlord because she could not pay her rent.
We eventually discovered that Hala’s case was not unique. Refugees in Mafraq, who were living not in camps but among the local population, were not yet getting the services they needed. The main aid organizations were only permitted to provide assistance in the nearby transit centers, where newly arrived refugees are registered before being released into the community. But in the surrounding villages themselves, refugees were at most receiving one-off distributions of food, household items, or small amounts of money from local charities: nothing systematic, and nothing acknowledging each refugee’s individual needs.
As a result, distributions were haphazard and many vulnerable people were being overlooked. By contrast, services in Amman were reaching families more regularly because aid agencies were authorized to work in that urban environment, using tested methods for serving scattered or hard-to-find populations.
Since our visit, the number of Syrians crossing into Jordan has surged, and Jordan’s government is poised to open official camps for Syrian refugees tomorrow. Make no mistake: assigning refugees to camps is far from an ideal response. While it can be easier in a camp to keep track of who is arriving and in need of services, camps can be isolating and restrictive for refugees.
But while we are concerned about these camps, we remain worried as well about the refugees who will remain outside of them, like Hala and her son in Mafraq. More than 30,000 Syrians like her are living in Jordanian towns and villages, and they remain heavily dependent upon humanitarian assistance. Even if a large majority of the Syrian refugees in Jordan ultimately end up in camps, there will still be tens of thousands outside who will need help finding food, shelter, medical care, and education. Many of them are now living just beyond the soon-to-be camp sites, unable to travel further on into Jordan, with many of them avoiding registration out of fear. These families will have the same needs as those in the camps, but will not have as ready access to support.
As camps open and service programs are established within them, it is imperative that assistance for urban refugees continues to develop at the same time. Syrian refugees outside the camps must not be forgotten because they are a smaller, less visible population. All refugees have needs and rights, regardless of where they live.July 23, 2012 | Tagged as: Jordan, Syria, Humanitarian Response, Middle East, Women & Children