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Bank cards – new tool of humanitarian aid?

Since early September 2019, Caritas Poland has been helping 82 families of Syrian refugees and 36 poorest Jordanian families using the Polish MFA’s development cooperation funds.

An estimated 85 percent of Syrian refugees in Jordan live in poverty, ready to take worse-paid tough jobs. They live in dire housing conditions, trying to survive. An ongoing crisis on the real estate market and job shortages for Jordanians in their home country do not make it easy for Jordan to take in refugees. As part of a group of international donors of humanitarian assistance, Poland searches for modern tools to help the ones in need. It also seeks to prevent tensions between refugees and their host communities. Below are the stories of two families who were forced to leave their country due to political situation. They had to face a long journey and an everyday struggle.

What is a refugee’s life like in Jordan?

Muneer is Syrian and comes from Al-Qamishli in northern Syria. He has lived in Jordan for a long time, and he got married there. His wife is Jordanian, but under the local citizenship law, their five children have only Syrian passports. The family cannot go back to Syria, and in Jordan, where they live, their children are treated like foreigners.  

Difficult living conditions have forced Muneer to apply for UNHCR refugee status for him and his children. Their applications were accepted.

His three older children now live on their own. The eldest son went to Germany because he couldn’t find a job in Jordan. Muneer and his wife take care of the youngest son and daughter who still go to school. They rent a house in Amman which costs JOD 120 a month (around PLN 650), not including the bills.

Muneer does not have a permanent job. In recent years he has been earning some money in a restaurant, two or three times a week. He has problems with finding a job due to speech disorders. Many other people also struggle with finding a stable job: according to official data from the Statistics Office, unemployment in Jordan is at 19%.

Muneer’s eighteen-year-old daughter speaks for him at the interview. Asked how she would feel about returning to Syria, the girl says that it would be like a dream come true. She would feel at home there and could go to a free university – she would choose medical laboratory science.

Hala’s life changed completely

Hala, 25, comes from Syrian Homs. She is married and has two daughters, who are 2 and 5 years old. Her husband is the breadwinner, working off and on in an aluminium workshop. The family rents a flat in Amman which costs JOD 150.

“When he has a job to do, we get the money. If he has no job, we have nothing to eat,” says Hala sadly.

Hala fled to Jordan with her mother and sister in 2013. At that time she was in the final year of secondary school but she couldn’t finish school due to fighting going on in the city. First they stopped in Damascus and then they made their way to Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan where they spent one day before leaving for Amman where they had a friend.

“My life changed completely,” says Hala. “Before I was at school, then I was running away from bombs and bullets. I had responsibilities that I was too young to shoulder. Today, I am an old woman.”

Hala’s elder daughter was born with a congenital heart defect. She wouldn’t eat, she was not gaining weight. With no health care, the defect was diagnosed only when she was three years old. She was operated in a hospital that runs health care projects for Caritas Poland in cooperation with Caritas Jordan.

“It was my first child, I didn’t know how to react, whom to ask,” explains Hala woefully. “I am struggling with psoriasis myself. Doctors say that it was caused by trauma. I cannot afford medicine. The symptoms are supposed to let go if my mental condition improves – but it is very unlikely.”

Hala says that she is not considering to return to Syria as she has nowhere to go back to and Homs is now in ruins. The very thought of going back makes her terrified. She dreams of having the possibility to live in a different country, where her daughters can grow up and she can get the necessary treatment. She applied at the UNHCR office a few times, but she has received no phone call in response for six years.

From 2016, Caritas Poland, Caritas Jordan and Polish Aid support Syrian refugees by giving them shelter. Aid goes to single parents, people with disabilities and children, all of them in a precarious life situation. Under the project, they receive bank cards which they can use to pay the rent. Cash assistance is considered to be the most useful aid form. The beneficiaries are free to decide how to spend the money they receive, and they regain the feeling of dignity. If the rent is lower than the aid granted, they can use the remaining funds to cover other urgent needs such as medical treatment or food.

In 2016-2018, Caritas Poland spent a total of PLN 6 million for similar projects in Jordan. Funds were distributed among more than 1.200 families. The project “Ensuring shelter to Syrian city refugees and poorest Jordanians in Jordan’s four provinces” is co-financed under the Polish MFA’s development cooperation programme.

The above information was based on the article by Caritas Poland “Roof over head for refugees. Caritas Poland’s aid in Jordan.”

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