By Tim Jenner/IRC-UK Development Manager Image: Kete Shabani/The IRC
For six months, 59 year old Lana* and her extended family moved from village to village to escape the bombings and gunfire in Syria. Lana decided it was time to leave Syria entirely on the morning her grandchildren awoke to discover a spray of bullet holes across the wall of their home. “A nearby military unit had used the wall for sniper practice,” Lana explains. “We had to protect our children; we had to flee to Jordan."
That, too, entailed danger, she says. “We travelled off-road at night time to avoid checkpoints. Near the Jordanian border, Syrian soldiers fired bright flares to search for people. Every few minutes we had to drop to the ground until the light faded. Then we would run until the next flare. Occasionally, they would start shooting at the people who were not quick enough to hide in time. They were trying to track us down because we were fleeing; they were trying to kill us."
It took Lana, her four daughters and 11 grandchildren four terrifying hours to cross the border on foot. Once in Jordan, she says police gave the children juice and sandwiches while reassuring them that the worst was over.
Eight months on, as Lana, her family and I sit drinking mint tea in their small, dilapidated apartment on the outskirts of Jordan’s northern border city of Ramtha, relief at having escaped had been replaced by anxiety. Like most Syrians forced to flee, Lana and her family crossed the border with little more than the clothes on their backs. Much of the scarce money they’d brought with them was used as payment to bail the family out of the Zaatari refugee camp, where all incoming refugees are initially sent. They used the remainder in the next couple of months to pay rent for their small apartment.
Just like Lana and her family, there are tens of thousands of other Syrian families living in Jordanian towns and villages struggling to meet their daily needs. As Lana explains, "Every day we worry about feeding and educating our children, paying for medicine, rent, electricity and water bills."
In recent months, Jordan has seen a marked increase in the cost of rent, food and medicine, which, coupled with the fact that it’s expensive and time consuming to obtain work papers, only exasperates their dire situation. "We worry about survival here, we worry about feeding our children, we worry about when we are going to go back, we worry about how we are going to go back, we worry about what we'll find when we return. It's on our mind every minute.”
Still, Lana is more fortunate than many refugees. The IRC has provided her (as well as thousands of other Syrian refugees), with free medical care, reproductive health assistance, prescriptions, counseling and cash to buy food and other essentials.
The horrors of their escape from Syria are over for Lana and her family, but whilst they continue to face a daily struggle for survival the IRC will remain on hand to help. It may not fulfill all their needs, but it’s a start.
*Names have been changed for security reasons