According to the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees), four in five Syrian refugees in Jordan reside outside camps. The majority of the media, publications, and NGO reports however, highlight the dearth of UNHCR and NGO aid and services toward the refugees within camps.
Thus, the public has not truly comprehended that insufficient international funding and reported corruption, has created a humanitarian disaster in Amman, Jordan.
This publication derives from 102 interviews with the urban Syrian Diaspora outside camps, within cities, between 2014 and 2019. YouTube links to those who agreed to make their interviews public are contained therein. The interviews revealed that the majority of urban Syrian refugees today experience exploitation and continue to lack basic medical services and medicine, protection from abuse, affordable access to education, access to equal employment, and adequate food provisions. They also suffer careless collective refoulement by the Jordanian government.
Why and How Syrian Refugees Leave Camps
According to interviews, the UNHCR Pekin Order of distributing aid is first refugee camps, second registered refugees outside camps, and lastly unregistered refugees outside camps. Despite the UNHCR and NGO aid and services focusing primarily on camps, Syrian refugees departed from the camps.
The majority cited no educational programs or medical services. Others complained of unsanitary conditions, including mice and scorpions, lack of recreational facilities and electricity (In 2015 electricity was installed in camps), and overcrowding. The majority echoed 70 year old Syrian, Thuraya Jameel Youseff’s opinion that the UAE camp was the best, in comparison to others like Zaatari and Azraq.
They also complained of organized exploitation and human trafficking. Examples include forced prostitution and marriages, forced employment, and theft; indirectly aided or directly performed, by Jordanian law enforcement and Gendarme surrounding the camps.
A small portion of refugees also complained of organ trafficking as well.
In one interview, a woman paid a man to get her out illegally, but he never returned. Other refugees added this occurs regularly. Off camera, she identified the thief as a friend of a Jordanian police officer, often seen visiting the camp.
One Syrian refugee, Basil, explained, “These are Jordanian Bedouins protecting us. They dislike Palestinians and Syrians. Of course they seek to make money off our pain.” Another refugee added, “A lot of bad things happened here (Azraq Camp). Nobody knows.”
In a candid conversation on forced marriages with a Jordanian Gendarme, he explained, “If a Muslim man can marry the females here and make their life better, so what? If they go to America, they will become Christians.”
Syrian refugees interviewed indicated they escaped by three ways.
Two methods are illegal which are running away without alerting anyone or bribing the Jordanian Gendarme. Some of the Jordanian Gendarme, according to refugee testimonies, are conduits for human trafficking. They play “middle man” between Syrian refugees and human traffickers by arranging prior agreements and also the escape.
The third, and legal way, is to convince a Jordanian to provide a Kifala.
A Kifala is a sponsorship by a Jordanian citizen that can lead to exploitation, as that sponsor usually asks for monetary returns or other favors in exchange. At anytime, for any reason, the sponsor can revoke this Kifala, resulting in deportation.
Some describe it as slavery, others, human trafficking. But it’s the norm and legal in Jordan.
Conditions are so horrible at the camps wherein the majority of UNHCR and NGO aid flows into, that one paraplegic interviewed, Jamal Abdel Aziz, admitted his chances were impossible to escape, yet he couldn’t bear the awful situation and quickly wheeled away from Azraq Camp, during a dust storm.
Basic Medical Services and Medicine
The Health Science Journal reported in 2019, “The provision of health services to Syrian refugees in Jordan is in fairly good level.”
However, according to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), free Jordanian health care ceased in November 2014, and a new law in 2018, required Syrian refugees to pay “80 per cent of the ‘foreigner rate’ for healthcare,” much more than Jordanian citizens.
These exploitive and unfair changes have resulted in drastic repercussions. Interviews with Syrians outside camps have revealed that life-necessary medical services and medicine, by the UHCR and NGOs, have become less dependable and even non-existent.
A Syrian named Mohammed averred, “In Syria, Bashar kills us quickly. Here the UNHCR and Jordanian government kills us slowly.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) stated in 2019, “The main health concerns that currently face the Syrian refugees are upper respiratory tract infections, diarrhea, and skin conditions. Chronic diseases include gastro-intestinal complaints, hypertension, asthma, diabetes and cardiovascular conditions.”
This is incomplete.
Problems left untreated by the UNHCR and NGOs since 2011 until now, according to urban Syrians, also include tuberculosis, back disk and hip problems, vitamin deficiency, anemia, Hepatitis, chronic kidney disease, Urea Cycle disorder , parasitic infection as Giardiasis, epilepsy, neuropsychiatric disorders, and cerebrovascular disease.
Worse, urban Syrian refugees are turned away by the UNHCR and NGOs for treatment of various forms of cancer.
For example, although 356 Syrian patients have been treated at the King Hussein Cancer Center in Amman, Ahmad reported the same center coldly turned him away with, “This place is for Jordanians only. God willing, God will help you.” Others reported being simply told by the center, “We can’t help you.”
Syrian children are also risking death with little or no help from the UNHCR and NGOs for genetic diseases, like Thalassaemia.
A mother, Raeda Mustafa, has 2 children suffering Thalassaemia. Thalassaemia requires regular blood transfusions and medication to remove a high iron count.
She couldn’t afford the 688 JD (Jordanian dinars) costs for treatment. NGOs and the UNHCR weren’t meeting these bills and even occasionally refused to provide blood transfusions.
At the time of the interview, her children endured 3 months without medication and a year without transfusion. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, Thalassaemia sometimes requires blood transfusions every two to five weeks. Syrian mothers are also not provided simple Caesarian child births by the UNHCR and NGOS in Jordan.
Yasmeen Mohammed Sheikh, could not afford one with her UNHCR 10 JDs monthly aid. No one would help she reported. Dr. Luay of the Qatar Red Crescent Society in Amman, Jordan, performed the operation for free, yet stated this was an exception.
Other urban Syrians are dying from not receiving heart operations.
Sammie desperately needed a heart operation. He was given only medication by the UNHCR, though he couldn’t walk a kilometer without resting.
He publicly pleaded for two things. One was for King Abdullah II of Jordan to allow refugees to leave and return to camps, without a Kifala. He also asked for a heart operation from the UNHCR.
He died a few months later after this interview without either.
No Protection from Abuse
Sean Healy and Sandrine Tiller of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) stated in 2013, “The attitude of the Jordanian authorities, and of the Jordanian population, to the influx of Syrian refugees has been largely welcoming.”
This is absolutely not true.
The rising xenophobia toward Syrian refugees in Amman has been overwhelmingly palpable. The majority of poor Jordanian Bedouin and Palestinians offer few positive comments on Syrian refugees, which anyone residing a duration of time in Amman can realize.
In regards to the Hashemite government, as human rights lawyer Mayuri Anupindi in 2018 stated, governments like Jordan, “have enacted discriminatory legislation against refugees, making it more difficult for them to obtain legal aid, work permits, education for children, and psychosocial assistance. This leaves refugees extremely vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.”
Syrian refugees outside camps are normally exposed to discrimination and an emetic exploitation by Jordanian citizens, businesses, and the Jordanian government. Exploitation by nature, leads to abuse, and Syrian refugees have very few mechanisms to protect themselves or to seek out justice.
In one case in Salt, Jordan, a total of eight Syrian refugee families were exploited and abused by a single landlord. They were charged 300 to 350 JDs for apartments without water and electricity, twice as much as average Syrian refugee rent cost (150 JDs). The UNHCR and NGOs in Jordan were not helping the families.
The following abuse was horrendous and shielded by the Jordanian legal system.
The landlord kidnapped Fatima Hariri’s husband and tied him to a tree. He then publicly whipped him in broad daylight in front of her children, for being delinquent in 300 JDs rent. He also appropriated her husband’s identity documents as collateral.
Fatima and her husband filed a complaint, but the police did nothing. A court official stated, “You Syrians make problems. Then ask us for help.”
Another victim stated the same landlord threatened to rape her. The UNHCR directed her to contact local law enforcement. When she complained, the police asked, “Why are you not wearing a hijab?”
The authorities then offered to place her under “administrative detention” which means, imprison her for protection. According to Reuters, 65 percent of women in Jordan’s prisons are incarcerated for their own protection from male violence.
Another victim, Raghad Hamdan Al Musa, interviewed with Adam Coogle of Human Rights Watch, tried to move after several complaints of no water in the apartment were not appeased.
The same landlord blocked off Raghad’s taxi, physically restrained her, and threatened her entire family warning, “Syrian refugee blood is gold to me!”
The next day after this interview, Raghad’s son was arrested by plain clothed Jordanian security officers. The remaining four of eight families abused by this landlord were too scared to participate in prior scheduled interviews, after hearing of her son’s arrest.
Affordable Access to Education
According to the UNHCR, in 2018, 145,000 Syrian refugee children were enrolled in schools. This is grossly insufficient, like the medical services and medicine supplied to urban Syrian refugees by the UNHCR and NGOs. There are 714,000 Syrian refugee children in Amman which means only 20 percent of Syrian refugee children are in school, since 2011.
In addition, Syrian refugees are also exploited in education. Syrians are forced to pay the more costly international student tuition at universities, instead of the normal rate reserved for Jordanian citizens.
Miha explained that three universities over-charged her oldest daughter, more than Jordanian tuition, and required monthly, instead of annual payments. All of her seven daughters were also turned away by Jordanian public schools.
She couldn’t pay for blood tests or prescription glasses for her children. She couldn’t afford the medication for her husband’s diabetes. The UNHCR and NGOS in Jordan refused to help.
She aspersed, “I don’t want anything in my life, just a chance for my children to have an education.”
No Access to Equal Employment
Urban Syrian refugees have little access to legal employment. Due to this, exploitation occurs during and in consequence to illegal employment.
As of 2018, the Jordanian Ministry of Education issued 108,000 work permits for 120,000 registered Syrians within camps. There are around 1,400,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, the majority of which, 80 percent, dwell outside camps. This means only 8 percent of Syrian refugees, the ones within camps, have work permits and 92 percent are without.
Syrians caught working, without a work permit, are immediately deported back to Syria. Yet, they must work illegally to meet the lack of aid and services from the UNHCR and Jordanian NGOs. The preceding formula consequently enables the exploitation and human trafficking.
According to interviews, Syrians are paid significantly less, not allowed to form unions, are provided no medical or accidental insurance, no employment contracts and experience unjustifiable termination, late payments or none at all, unwarranted deductions from salaries, passport or ID confiscation, physical and sexual violence, and the threat of deportation if they complain.
It’s human trafficking on an enormous scale, yet the accepted norm in Amman, Jordan. It occurs in the agricultural fields, constructions jobs, and even in schools.
Additionally, according to Al Fanar Media, Syrians are also not permitted by the Jordanian government to work in medicine, law, accounting, teaching, engineering, or as drivers.
The Jordanian government has also imposed fines for any Syrian opening home businesses such as computer programming, designing, translation, and cooking.
Amer’s situation highlights the frustration of the average urban Syrian refugee. His son needs a liver transplant which costs 100,000 JDs. He doesn’t receive help from the UNHCR or any NGOs. He was eventually arrested for working illegally as a construction worker and escaped deportation by obtaining a Kifala.
He stated, “They handcuffed me like I killed someone…Syrians can’t work. We can’t live. We have nothing. What can we do? The salaries we get from work is not even enough for food.”
Amer confided off camera that the agreement for his Kifala to escape deportation was 10,000 JDs, which he hasn’t paid yet.
The nastiest part of the urban Syrian employment exploitation though, is child labor.
The Jordanian NGO Tamkeen reported that though legal employment age in Jordan is sixteen, Syrian children as young as three have been working. Also, 46 percent of Syrian children over fourteen are currently employed for twelve hours a day, seven days a week.
Diala al-Amiri of Tamkeen stated, “Let’s say it is modern slave labor.”
Based on interviews with Jordanians, the Jordanian daily minimum wage is 10 JDs, precisely the meager amount the UNHCR gives most urban Syrians for food provisions monthly. Syrian children are paid much less than the minimum wage.
Zuhoor Fares Yousef stated her twelve year old child works as a fruit and vegetable seller for one JD a day.
Ahmad, who was permanently injured while absconding from Jordanian labor police at work, reported his twelve year old child now works for half a JD daily, to support a family of five.
Nearly a quarter of interviewees also admitted their children resorted to begging, some being paid by Jordanians to do so. Those Syrian children and mothers begging, also risk deportation. Jordanian cultural canards believe all beggars are liars or thieves, thus making begging a criminal offense.
Inadequate Food Provisions
The UNHCR and NGOs are not providing sufficient cash or food assistance to the majority of Syrian refugees.
The UNHCR claims on its website, “Cash and vouchers help the displaced meet a variety of needs, including access to food, water, healthcare, shelter, that allow them to build and support livelihoods, and to facilitate voluntary repatriation.”
However, the majority of urban Syrian refugees interviewed in Amman, Jordan, were not being helped by the UNHCR or NGOs with apartment rent or utilities, decent clothing, child or infant necessities, food provisions, and medical services or medicine, with exception to a very small few.
Many Syrian refugees felt they were purposely being neglected and coerced by the UNHCR, NGOs, and the Jordanian government, to voluntarily return to Syria.
Most reported receiving cash assistance or vouchers of approximately 10 JDs, sometimes a little more, which can only purchase a falafel sandwich for dinner daily, for a single individual, with only ten days of starvation left in a month.
According to a UNHCR report from 2017, it provided $85 million from a donor to 30,000 Syrian refugees, which should equate into $2,800 each family if completely divided equally. Yet the UNHCR reported it only gave amounts between 80 ($112) and 155 JDs ($212) to each household.
This a huge problem. The average cost of living for an average family in Amman, Jordan, according to the Jordan Times, requires a monthly salary of 854 JDs.
It seems the UNHCR may be misusing funds also. Although 85% of Syrian refugees in Amman currently live below the poverty line, the UNHCR purchased a high technology eye scanner in 2015, to provide 100 JD cash vouchers for only registered Syrian refugees inside camps.
Meanwhile, Zuhoor Fares Yousef explained her husband has a broken femur bone and severe back problem, and is completely unable to work. The UNHCR promised to visit her household. They never showed and still refuse to help her family.
She complained, “Inside or outside the camp. Life is horrible.”
Another urban Syrian, Abdullah, exclaimed, “They give us 10 JDs here and there, maybe more, one or two times, if we might be deported for debt or die. It’s crumbs for birds. But in the news, they show a good face for helping a few people and quiet like a mouse about not helping all of us.”
Cruel and Careless Refoulement
Refoulement is the deportation of refugees and political asylees back to a nation where they may be subjected to persecution or death. International human rights organizations and the United Nations are adamantly opposed to refoulement, as it violates a cornerstone of human rights.
However, refoulement is a policy and norm in Amman, Jordan.
Human Rights Watch reported that an average of 400 registered Syrian refugees are deported monthly without reason and without being able to challenge deportation proceedings.
A source within the Jordanian Ministry of Interior, Ahmed, commented, “We are deporting more than this a month, thousands. Mostly after the last ISIS attacks (Karak, Rukban, and Salt).”
A source within the Sweileh Jordanian police, Faisal, stated, “We deport Syrians all the time. Sometimes people ask, but they don’t see. We give them a number. Syrians have a country. Not like Palestinians.”
The reasons for deportation mentioned by urban Syrian refugees were working without a permit, being caught outside the camps without permission, an argument with a Jordanian, Syrians fighting each other, lies by Jordanian racists that a Syrian is a terrorist, a wife jealous of her husband’s relations with a prostitute (real or unreal), complaining of employment exploitation or UNHCR and NGO corruption, deriving from a city in Syria which the Jordanian intelligence dislikes, and more.
One reason mentioned for deportation is calling relatives in Syria.
In an article by NBC News, a family of seventeen members were all deported because just one family member called her relatives in a government controlled area of Syria. According to interviews with urban Syrian refugees, the above is not an anomaly. It happens regularly.
One Syrian, Fayez, explained, “The Jordanian government is listening to our calls. I know many people who called Syria to speak with family, they were kicked out from Jordan.”
A source within the Jordanian intelligence indicated, “Umniah, Zain, Orange. We look at records of all calls. Not just refugees, also NGOs, journalists, Parliament, UNHCR. It’s our right.”
A computer consultant, Tom, opined, “Dictatorships like Jordan are currently seeking spy technology like Pegasus from companies like NSO in Israel, may already possess Davinci and Galileo platforms from Italian firms, and Semptian from China; all of which allow these bad people to spy on their citizens in real time.”
Other Syrian refugees exclusively singled out for deportation are Palestinian Syrian refugees. Despite the Jordanian Queen, Rania Abdullah, being Palestinian, the Jordanian Bedouins have drawn the line with Palestinian Syrian refugees entering Jordan.
A mother, Sanaa Abdul Razaq Zain, had her son and husband wrongly identified as Palestinian Syrians and quickly deported, despite documents proving otherwise. She described 75 percent of her family as sick, listing a litany of untreated ailments her family members suffered from such as diabetes, high blood pressure, gunshot wounds, etc.
Sitting beside her daughter who was suffering from brain paralysis and her daughter-in-law near to birth, with the father of the child, her son, recently deported to Syria, Sanaa Abdul Razaq Zain pleaded in a personal message to King Abdullah II of Jordan in tears, “I ask anyone with a heart from God to help us…Please return my son and husband in any way.”
Insufficient Aid and Corruption
There are two main reasons for the extreme neglect of Syrian refugees in Amman, Jordan.
One is insufficient funding from the international community. The UNHCR in 2019, only received 20 percent of its budget for operations. This hints that the international community, some of which has been promulgating the Syrian Conflict, has inexcusably and utterly failed to meet its financial obligations to the innocent victims of war.
The international community is not to blame alone though. The Jordanian government is as well. They developed the non-altruistic Jordan Response Plan of 2016-2018 for Syrian refugees.
According to the Jordan Response Plan of 2016-2018, approximately 60 percent of all international donations for Syrian refugees goes toward benefitting Jordanians, more than Syrian refugees. The plan allocates more money toward Jordanians in education, health, and electricity, than to benefit Syrians.
The second reason is corruption within Jordan.
Urban Syrian refugees interviewed complained of UNHCR personnel promising resettlement, extra food provisions, additional medicine, and protection from deportation in exchange for money, and even sexual favors.
One Syrian, Rashad, stated, “I think all of us Syrians know about the corruption. It’s in our faces every day. They waste money on useless programs and give us so little. They use us for money. We don’t even have what we need to survive. Why register? We risk deportation if we register and get little more in aid.”
One UNHCR employee, Omaya, explained corruption leaked into the UNHCR when Jordanians were substantially integrated. She continued, “They (Jordanians) carried their prejudices from their own culture and religion into the UNHCR. They and the families they support, come from a poor nation which finds corruption acceptable. It’s the same the UNRWA did to Palestinians. What do you expect?”
A different UNHCR employee, Ismael, stated “We exaggerate costs and pocket the rest. We move funds here and there. We aren’t helping these refugees. We’re robbing them of hope, so they’ll leave. If your country won’t help with money, we’ll do it our way.”
The international community absolutely needs to resettle more refugees in developed nations and increase its aid and services to Syrian refugees in Amman, Jordan.
The international community should also send a stern ultimatum to the Jordanian government that increased funding and increased resettlement will not begin until seriously significant actions are taken to:
- Punish and halt the inhumane exploitation of Syrian refugees
- Fully protect Syrian refugees and punish past cases of abuse
- Investigate and punish criminal corruption effectively
- Abolish the exploitive and disgusting Kifala system and allow freedom of movement to and from camps
- Permanently cease unjust refoulement.
It is absolutely unacceptable that the current system has been victimizing Syrian refugees twice.
The media should also shift from gossamer grandiose media publications which focus on small positive acts within camps, and give the honest spotlight toward urban Syrian refugees’ suffering. An amnesty should also be immediately enacted for all Syrian refugees to register, without deportation.
A problem can’t be resolved without honestly identifying it. Additionally, a part of the corruption derives from not accurately assessing and helping the total number of Syrian refugees. The total 1.4 million may itself be inflated.
The United Nations should also make more frequent unexpected visits to UNHCR affiliated locations and camps while checking, on the ground, the application of funds toward Syrian refugees. They should also perform an investigation of how its resources were spent in Amman in the past, train and vet UNHCR personnel on corruption and bigotry, and it should completely scrap cooperating with the Jordan Response Plan of 2016-2018.
Significantly more work permits, at least six to seven times its current status, need to be granted so as to remove conditions which augment exploitation and human trafficking. There are plenty of potential jobs Syrian refugees could do, but Jordan and the UNHCR prefer to depend on donations or funding for job creation.
If one views all of the unfinished construction projects in Amman, Jordan, the Syrian refugees could finish them. They also could help with the dearth of transportation services and cleaning the streets which are dirty and garbage infested. The tourism department could also use some help.
Access to education should be increased as well, at least three times its current status.
There are many qualified volunteer expats who have offered to teach Syrian refugees for free, but have been consistently turned away. The UNHCR and Jordan prefer funding for teachers, educational supplies and programs instead.
There are so many empty hotels and buildings not being employed for affordable housing in Amman ,yet housing rent is the most costly expense of Syrian refugees in Jordan. The UNHCR and the Jordanian government rather receive funding for tents and fences instead.
This all has to stop and something needs to change quickly. We are creating a new generation of victims who will hate us later for our neglect and exploitation.
Special thanks to Jamal Albes who acted as an interpreter. He was later deported from Jordan and separated from his wife, after helping with some of the interviews entailed within this report.
Taiyo Davis is an author, independent journalist, and ESL/Social Studies teacher, commanding six languages. He has researched refugees in the Middle East for ten years, without departure. He was also a former political lobbyist in the United States, with fifteen years experience as a human rights activist.
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