Before the war, we had dreams



Middle East

By Guy Edmunds

Before Syria’s civil war forced Aqeel Hassan Irabaiah to flee the country, he worked for a company that distributed crisps and cornflakes. From his home in a village outside of the southern Syrian city of Daraa, he would travel widely, using the money to support his growing family. But since he arrived in Jordan at the beginning of 2013, he has not been able to earn anything. Jordanian law prevents Syrian refugees from working.

We are sitting on mattresses in the unheated two rooms that this family of 12 calls home. Beside me, their youngest child, Yusuf, sleeps soundly. A few days before we meet, Yusuf had turned one. Normally that would be a cause for joy. But these days, Aqeel says, they feel they have little to celebrate.

When DRC staff first assessed Aqeel’s family, they found multiple needs. Then, the family had one mattress between them. Yusuf’s mother swaddled him in rags and plastic bags. With emergency cash from DRC, they were able to buy more mattresses, and nappies. Aqeel tells me how grateful he is to DRC for the help. But the children lack many other things: between them, for example, they have just three jackets for winter. One of Aqeel’s sons, Sami, has mental health problems, but they cannot afford the extra care that Sami requires.

I ask whether Syrian refugees are able to evade the prohibition on working. Aqeel says he knows of people who do, but the penalties are stiff. Police take offenders back to the Za’atari camp near the Syrian border, where approximately 90,000 Syrian refugees live in a windswept desert.

Having passed through Za’atari on the way to Amman, Aqeel and his family have no desire to go back there. But life in Amman is difficult. As Hiba, a DRC field officer, tells me later, rural families like Aqeel’s often struggle to adjust to the city.

I ask what they think about the future, but the question immediately feels tactless. As Aqeel says, they barely think about it at all. “Before the war, we had dreams”, he explains. “Now, we live day to day, longing for the day that we can return home.”