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Press Release

As COVID cases surpass 120,000 in Jordan, refugees struggle to feed their families

  • IRC receives record number of requests for financial assistance
  • Over 60% of calls received since March have been requests for financial assistance
  • Most calls have come from women who were their family's main breadwinner until they lost their jobs
  • Some families have resorted to searching through rubbish bins for food to feed their children

In tandem with Jordan’s surging COVID cases - which have now surpassed 120,000 - the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is deeply concerned about the financial impact the pandemic is having on refugees and vulnerable Jordanians, who are struggling to feed their families and pay for other basic necessities. 

The IRC has received a record number of requests for assistance since the start of the pandemic: in the past seven months alone, the organisation had already received triple the number of calls to its hotline than it did throughout the whole of 2019. 

Since March, over 60% of the calls the organisation has received have been requests specifically for financial assistance - a tenfold increase in the number of calls compared to the same time period last year. Of these, almost half have been requests to cover basic needs. 

“I’m a mother of three children. My husband has a severe war injury in his legs so he can’t walk or move. I used to sell my home-cooked food, and that helped me pay the rent, bills and food expenses, but that all stopped and I’m no longer able to make any money to even feed my family. It wasn’t possible to pay the rent and as a result of that the owner forced us to leave and we are currently staying in a small room at a relative’s house. It is unbearable.” - Syrian refugee, 22 years old, Irbid

With the pandemic continuing to worsen, the organisation is calling for more support to help not just those who contract the virus, but also those who have lost their source of income and are struggling to survive. There is an urgent need for additional funding to ensure continued cash assistance so that the most vulnerable can meet their basic needs during the pandemic, but now more than ever there is also a need for the restrictive laws and policies that inhibit the ability of refugees to enter the formal labour market to be reformed and for more support to be given to entrepreneurs to get their business ideas off the ground. This will not only enable individuals who have been worst-hit financially by the pandemic to get back on their feet, but will contribute to Jordan’s long-term economic recovery as well. 

Sarra Ghazi, the IRC’s Country Director in Jordan, said:

“Although the government took swift action to prevent the spread of the virus and to strengthen Jordan’s health system at the start of the pandemic, this sadly took its toll on the most vulnerable. Businesses were forced to close and people lost their jobs. Without a source of income, meeting their basic needs became a daily struggle. By July this year we had already received more calls to our hotline than we did for the whole of 2019, and each week we hear of people in ever-more desperate circumstances. 

“One woman told us that her husband had resorted to searching for food in the rubbish bins to make it possible for them to feed their children, while many others have told us that they have had to send their children out to work - knowing that they should be in school, and wishing they could send them there instead. These are desperate times for many people in Jordan. Even though the Government provided support through the National Aid Fund for those who lost their jobs, the financial impact the pandemic has had on people has been so deep that this has not been enough. People can’t afford food, they can’t afford to pay their rent, and many are fearful of eviction. 

“We have been able to support the most vulnerable with emergency cash assistance and are providing start-up grants to enable those with home-based business ideas to get them off the ground, but the needs are vast. Although the lockdown measures eased towards the end of June, the number of calls we are receiving for economic support continues to rise - even though we are now four months down the line. In the past two weeks alone, 74% of the calls we’ve received have been requests for financial assistance - the majority of them to cover basic needs. Emergency cash assistance is vital, and we will continue to provide it to assist those most in need, but it is not a long-term solution. The restrictions placed on refugees that limit the type of work they can do must be lifted so that they have the chance to earn a decent living. But more than that, we need continued investment from the international community in projects that will make it possible for refugees and Jordanians to build and grow their own businesses. This will help people not only through the current crisis, but far into the future as well, as refugees will become self-reliant and their hard work will contribute towards boosting Jordan’s recovering economy.”

The IRC is calling for public and private institutions in Jordan - as well as the community as a whole - to continue in their support for refugees in the country, and to ensure their continued access to education (including online), healthcare, legal services, accommodation, and job opportunities. Support to vulnerable Jordanians in meeting their daily needs and accessing employment opportunities is equally crucial during this crisis. The IRC further calls on donors to provide additional, timely and flexible funding for NGOs in Jordan to address the immediate basic needs arising with COVID-19 and to protect the livelihoods of both vulnerable Jordanians and refugees across the Kingdom. 

ENDS

Notes to editors

The circumstances of those who have reached out to the IRC asking for assistance vary and, although the majority of calls have been from Syrian refugees, there are many refugees of other nationalities and Jordanians who are suffering as well. 

Most requests for assistance come from women, but over the past seven months the number of calls from men has begun to increase. The quotes below bring to life the difficulties many people are facing. Most are from mothers who were working as housekeepers to support their families - in fact, they were the family’s main breadwinner. However, due to the lockdown, travel restrictions, curfews and people’s fears related to COVID-19, they have lost their only source of income.

I’m a mother of three children. My husband's work is not stable, I live in a rented house and our living conditions are extremely difficult. Now we fear death from starvation. We are unable to provide food for our children and my husband has reached a point where he is feeding us from food thrown in garbage bins.” - Syrian refugee, 22 years old, Irbid

“I’m responsible for four children, as my husband is unable to support us. I should be the family’s breadwinner, but now my 15 year old son is responsible for the household income. I’m forced to do that as he is the eldest and I can’t leave my other children alone at home. At the moment we don’t have any income and we are under pressure - we may lose the place where we are staying. There are many days I’m not able to feed my children.” - Syrian refugee, 41 years old, Irbid

“I used to support my family by working as a daily waged housemaid, even though I was pregnant and have a two year old child. But now, unfortunately - with the current accessibility limitations and the people’s fear of the coronavirus - I’m no longer able to do this kind of work. Now I have no income and I’m responsible for feeding my child and caring for my paralysed husband. I’m in real need of financial assistance.” - Syrian refugee, 19 years old, Amman

“I lost my husband in Syria and came to Jordan with my five children. The oldest is 16 years old. I’m living alone here and I can’t leave my children to go out to work, so I have been forced to send my 13 and 16 years old daughters and my son out to work so that we can at least afford our food expenses. The circumstances are difficult and with the current extra limitations of life, we reached a point where we can’t make money for food.” - Syrian refugee, 39 years old, Amman

“I’m responsible for six children, and I’m the family’s breadwinner. I live in a rented house which is uncomfortable and empty. I used to work as a cleaner at a hospital but I got released from my job and now I have no income and my debts are piling up. I’m in real need of financial support or any opportunity that could help me generate a small income to feed my children, pay my bills and rent.” - Jordanian, 43 years old, Ramtha city

“I have 11 children. My husband is unable to support us, so I am responsible for them all, but I can’t leave them and go to work. I also have no one that can support me so now, we don’t have any income and we have the added pressure of potentially losing the place where we’re staying. There are many days I’m not able to feed the children.” - Syrian refugee, 32 years old, Amman

“I have seven children. My husband left us, so my 12 year old son - who suffers from heart issues - became responsible for the household income. It really hurts me making him work at the vegetable market with his health condition, but I’m forced to do that as he is the eldest and I can’t leave my other children alone at home.” - Syrian refugee, 30 years old, Mafraq

“I used to work as a housekeeper at a few different houses and that was the only source of income for my family. I have four children and my husband has a number of difficult health conditions. Now due to the restrictions as a result of Corona, people stopped asking me to clean their homes and I lost my source of income. Now there are days I’m not even able to provide my family with food, let alone pay the rent, the electricity and the water bills. It is becoming unbearable seeing my children going hungry and the idea of us losing the place we are staying in to live on streets - God forbid. ” - Syrian refugee, 26 years old, Irbid

“I’m a mother of three children with special needs. They all have physical disabilities. My husband left me three years ago and he got married to another woman, leaving me and the children on our own. I don’t have a source of income. I used to provide food for my children from the leftovers my neighbours would give me, and the room I’m staying in - luckily the owner has been patient with me. I owe him around seven months rent, But now - since everyone is suffering from the financial crisis, people are facing difficulties in supporting each other or even being flexible in getting their money on time - I’m afraid I might lose our home.” - Syrian refugee, 34 years old, Mafraq  

“I used to work as a labourer at a vegetable market in Mafraq, but I got released from my job when the Corona crisis started in Jordan. It was my only source of income. I used it to pay part of my rent and to provide my eight children with food. I’m trying to find any other job just to feed my family but there are no opportunities. What I really fear is that I lose my house where I make sure my children are safe and I’m really afraid that I won’t be able to feed them anymore.” - Syrian refugee, 48 years old, Mafraq

About the IRC in Jordan

The IRC began working in Jordan in 2007, supporting refugees from Iraq as well as vulnerable and crisis-affected Jordanians. With the arrival of refugees from Syria in 2012, the organisation expanded its work, which now includes primary health care, mobile outreach, and empowerment programs for those in need. The IRC is currently implementing programs for Syrian refugees and vulnerable Jordanians in Za’atari and Azraq refugee camps, as well as in the towns of Mafraq, Ramtha, Irbid, Amman and Zarqa. The focus of its work is on women’s protection and empowerment, primary and reproductive health care, in addition to economic well being.

Since the start of the pandemic the IRC has adapted its programming to ensure those most in need are still able to receive assistance. All health clinics in Azraq and Zaatari refugee camps continue to operate, while in Mafraq and Ramtha we are providing remote health services. Our support to women and girls, our child protection services, our early childhood development activities and livelihoods support all continues to operate remotely via WhatsApp and over the phone. In-person case management support is provided in emergency situations

 

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 29 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue-uk.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.