|© UNICEF Jordan/2012/Malhas|
|The Jordan Red Crescent, with UNICEF support, runs guided sessions each week for Syrian and vulnerable Jordanian adolescents and parents.|
By Alaa Malhas and Wendy Bruere
AMMAN, Jordan, 13 December 2012 - Rahaf, 19, was studying to be a doctor in the Syrian Arab Republic before she fled to Jordan one month ago. She and her family were reluctant to leave their home in Dera’a until a bomb blast killed her two sisters and injured her oldest brother. “After that, my parents saw there was nothing to do but get away,” she says.
Even so, it was a difficult decision. “I’m not comfortable being here while people are dying in Syria,” she says.
Rahaf’s 18-year-old brother supports the family by working in a local restaurant. Her father stayed behind.
She cannot afford to continue her studies in Jordan and says she is just waiting until it is safe to return to her country. “The days are long here, and I don’t know what to do with my time.”
Lives put on hold
By late November, 143,697 Syrian refugees were registered or awaiting registration with UNHCR in Jordan. Like Rahaf, the vast majority of these people live in host communities, mainly in the capital Amman and the towns Irbid, Ma’an, Mafraq and Ramtha. The rest are in Za’atari refugee camp in the north.
“While Za’atari camp rightly receives much attention, we cannot forget those refugees living in host communities who are often extremely vulnerable and need our support,” says UNICEF Representative in Jordan Dominique Hyde.
To assist young women like Rahaf, the Jordan Red Crescent, with UNICEF assistance, runs guided workshops for adolescents and parents. Sessions aim to provide psychosocial support and raise awareness of child protection issues.
They target Syrian refugees living in Amman, as well as vulnerable Jordanians. In these groups, people can discuss their concerns with others in similar situations and receive guidance and support. Sessions run weekly over several months.
In a session Rahaf attended in early November, she and seven other teenage girls – six Syrians and one Jordanian – talked about the boredom and restlessness they felt as their lives were put on hold by the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic.
Mirna*, 16, attended the session with Rahaf. Although she is safe in Jordan, she lives with the uncertainty of not knowing what is happening to extended family left behind. “We fled death. It was horrible – there was shelling, and we were lucky to escape,” she says. “Because of bad phone connections, we haven’t been able to talk to family who stayed in Homs.”
Providing a safe space
Aside from the support offered through the guided workshops, further psychological assistance is offered to those who need it. The Jordan Red Crescent also provides recreational spaces and vocational training. So far, more than 600 Syrian refugees and vulnerable Jordanians have benefited from these programmes in Amman.
Walaa, 17, was in her final year of high school when she left the Syrian Arab Republic. She has not returned to school in Jordan, but is learning computer skills at the centre. She says she is gradually making new friends there.
Project Manager with the Jordan Red Crescent Razan Obeid says many Syrian refugees view their situation as temporary and do not plan to stay in Jordan for long – at least at first.
“Providing these programmes for girls and mothers helps them to process what they have been through and adjust to living in Jordan,” Ms. Hyde says. “Learning new skills and becoming part of a new peer group helps equip them to cope with what may become a lengthy stay here.”
UNICEF works with vulnerable Syrians in host communities, and has so far helped 17,000 children enroll in public schools, reached nearly 5,500 children and caregivers with psychosocial and protection activities, and is working to improve water supply in water-scarce northern governorates.
*Name changed on request.