USCRI: U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

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Warehousing is Happening in Front of My Own Eyes

Submitted by Gene DeFelice, USCRI Vice Chairman of the Board

I’ve had the privilege of accompanying a delegation of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) on its fact-finding trip to Jordan this week.  Although I have worked with the refugee community for a number of years, my work has been focused solely on resettlement efforts in the United States.  This was my first visit to a refugee camp outside of my home country.  This has been a powerful experience.

Our team visited three refugee facilities in Jordan: Cyber City, King Abdullah Park, and Za’atari.  CyberCity was a former technology park’s dormitory that housed itinerant foreign workers in the internet heyday.  Its cement block walls have since been converted to cramped, virtually permanent housing for 438 refugees from Syria - 177 of which are Palestinians.  There, we spoke to a refugee and she praised the response of Jordan and expressed effusive gratefulness to the Kingdom.  But she asked us also to bring back a message of need to the international community.  We watched children play a simple game led by workers from the Institute of Family Health from the Al Noor Hussein Foundation.  The staff of that particular Jordanian NGO do wonderful work and are truly on the side of the angels.  Each refugee in Cyber City receives a food stipend of only 22 Jordanian Dinars per month, the equivalent of approximately $33.

We then traveled to King Abdullah Park, which houses approximately 750 refugees - 450 of whom are young children.  Children followed us and we spent time talking to them.  They really wanted to be greeted, acknowledged, and to interact.  Each time they were recognized, they beamed with pride.  Again, the workers from the Institute of Family Health were there, and told us how they are focusing on psychosocial counseling to try to address some of the severe symptoms that come from being a refugee.

Finally, we traveled to the Za’atari camp - the place that is so often seen on TV news - with the team from the Institute of Family Health.  Za’atari houses between 30,000 and 40,000 refugees and the number is growing daily with the crisis in Syria.  Recently, there were protests in the camp by refugees over living conditions including food quality.  We again saw people of all ages - including many, many little children and babies - and families were living in thousands of tents spread across a massive, dusty dirt field.  Winter is coming to Jordan and the nights get cold in the desert air.  Refugees are provided thin blankets in dilapidated tents with little warmth and comfort. 

Refugees in the Za’atari camp are not allowed to leave, and this was a source of consternation for the refugees we spoke with.  Police and soldiers cluster at the gate, and there are wire fences that are meant to keep the refugees in.  This includes women and children.  There were barely kitchens in the camp; the ones we did see were primitive and communal, which seemed not yet to function.  Communal bathrooms.  Lack of privacy.  Lack of people having any sense of their own space.  There is nothing to do for the men in Za’atari camp, no jobs or training, and no visible hope.  There is sheer boredom for the people, stuck in a place where it is clear that they will experience nothing but tedium every day, all day long.  They do not know when and if they will be able to return to Syria. 

And then there are the children of Za’atari. The idea of warehousing thousands of children in a fenced, locked camp with poor food is a hard pill to swallow.  Such camps are bad places for human beings.  It pulls at one’s heartstrings; there is a strong sense of human potential being massively wasted.

I am proud to be associated with USCRI, which has been the leader in the international campaign against the warehousing of refugees.  This is a campaign that must continue, and has a long way to go.  USCRI has spoken out against the warehousing of refugees for many years now.  Having been to Jordan and seen it first hand, I am more convinced than ever that USCRI is right about a practice that must be abolished.  After meeting and speaking with the desperate Syrian refugees in Jordan this week, it is my hope that the international community finally will come together to fund the alternatives that we know exist, and which would  permit refugees to be integrated into society, without being held in detention camps without opportunity around the world.

Pictured above from left: Gene in Jordan, after a meeting with the Noor Al-Hussein Foundation; tents line a converted refugee facility in Jordan where boys try to occupy their time; and, a makeshift kitchen in Za'atari.

Tweet this:What is the fate of #Syrian #refugees in #Zaatari? Read USCRI's dispatches from the border of #Jordan http://bit.ly/Q1XYOn

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