A guest post by Penny Sims, British Red Cross senior press officer, who went to Jordan last week, to visit Syrian families displaced by the conflict.
“How did you cross the border?”
I heard this question a lot last week. When you learn about a refugee crisis you may think about the numbers, what makes people decide to leave, or how little people may have been able to bring with them – but the journey involved in leaving isn’t something you necessarily hear about.
The Jordanian Red Crescent are supporting over 11,000 families displaced by the conflict in Syria – over 50,000 people. These are not the people living in Zatari camp; these are some of the many thousands living in towns, cities and villages right across Jordan.
‘We saw too much killing’
For many refugees I spoke to, their story about how they left begins with a deciding moment: “my house was destroyed”; “there was so much firing in the street, I could not get to the hospital just 10 minutes away”; “we saw too much killing”.
Some families moved from place to place in Syria, trying to find somewhere safer to live – moving from Aleppo to Damascus, from Damascus to Der’a, to villages on the outskirts of Homs. Eventually they all decided that the only option was to leave.
Some crossed through the legal border points. Others were smuggled out, often paying large sums of money. Many times I heard how people had to pay much of their savings to smugglers, or had had that money taken from them, so even those with who had some money to support their families can arrive with little or nothing.
Some carried their children for five hours through the mountains, on foot. Some parents gave their smaller children medication to help them sleep, and stay quiet. Other families split up to make the journey individually. This could involve days of waiting with no news, before families are reunited. These are hard decisions for families to make.
‘Here we feel secure’
Some stories will stay with me forever. One man related how, when his family reached the border they were told they were lucky to make it – others who had attempted the crossing just three minutes before had been killed. Right after they crossed the border, his daughter-in-law gave birth.
The parents named their son Abdullah after King Abdullah of Jordan in thanks: “because here we feel secure”.
Other parents had been so exhausted by carrying their children, sometimes for days, they had moments they almost wanted to leave them behind. It is difficult to imagine the exhaustion a parent must feel to even consider that thought.
Some people crossed without incident, and speak of the kindness of neighbours or officials who helped them.
The border crossing is just one moment in the journey for any refugee, but it gives a snapshot view of some of the pressures refugees must face before reaching safety. Once they arrive, there are new challenges – finding somewhere to live, keeping the family fed, trying to keep in touch with family back home, getting access to schools, healthcare – safety is not the end of the story.
- The Jordanian Red Crescent is providing food, household kits, and hygiene kits to thousands of refugees living across the country.
- With other partners within the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, they are also providing healthcare, psychological support and advocating for the needs of displaced Syrians.
- The British Red Cross has deployed an international staff member to Jordan to provide technical support. He is helping the Jordanian Red Crescent to formulate their plans for further support to affected people.
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