The Syrian refugee surviving off of 7JD a day

‘I don’t have anything to feed the children’

Two Syrian boys collect food for their family from a WFP food distribution center in the Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan.
(Photo: Jordan News)
AMMAN — When Khadija opens her refrigerator she sees the same two items that she has seen for the last three days; olives, a few tomatoes, and nothing else. "We can't go back to Syria. There is nothing there," said Khadija, an unemployed Syrian refugee.اضافة اعلان

"I don't have anything to feed them (the children). It's so hard to see your child want, and ask for things, and you cannot give him this. We don't have tissue paper, we don't have dish soap. I look all around me and say how have we gotten to this point," said Khadija, whose real name Jordan News chose not to use.

She said that she has been unemployed since February 2021, after working for six years at the Jordan Red Crescent, even though her Syrian refugee status denied her the opportunity to be an actual employee.

During her time at the Red Crescent, she was considered a volunteer and was paid a daily stipend of JD7. In a month, she would generally receive between JD145 to JD180 a depending on if she missed any days or not.

"Many refugees decide to work informally which puts them at risk of being abused by job owners or face problems with authorities," said Muna Abbas, country director of Plan International Jordan, in an interview with Jordan News.

Khadija did not have a formal work permit, so she had to rely on work by way of “volunteering” or working informally. She said that she would perform the same tasks as many of her coworkers who were western foreigners, the only difference being that they were contractually hired and given a salary.

She added that the Red Crescent did "sympathize with me though, and understood my case, but there wasn't anything more they could do.

"When I asked to actually be hired, they told me ‘we don't hire Syrians,’" She said in anguish. "They promoted me a lot. I became a trainer, I would do a lot of social media for them. I would go out and help with their events. Of course they trained me in all of these fields. They saw potential in me, and helped me out so much. But in the end they wouldn't hire me. In the end, I learned and I grew so much, but it was all for waste."

One of the catalysts for her resignation was the issue of transportation. She traveled to work from East Amman, sometimes having to rely on costly taxis with fares running up to JD4. With more than half her allowance gone, she would have to be meticulous about the remaining wage.

"The taxi going to work would be around JD4, if not more. But on the way back, no matter how late I would be going home, I wouldn't take a taxi, because I wouldn't have any more money," Khadija said.

She would instead opt to take a bus for the journey home, sometimes having to take two, even three busses for her specific route. "So, ultimately all that I made, I just spent on transportation. Sometimes the transportation would be so expensive that I wouldn't have enough for lunch," she said.

According to the Danish Refugee Council, "there are sector-specific variations in the distances that individuals must travel in order to access work opportunities." They also reported that the majority of job opportunities available are mostly in West Amman, which requires anyone coming from East Amman to travel a substantial distance to access work.

Struggling to save each piaster has caused her strain inside her household. Her husband faces the same problem with work. He has a work permit, but the nature of his job is neither adequate nor stable, and his salary is barely enough to cover the rent of their JD200 apartment.

"Of course you can find cheaper, but my son has respiratory problems, so I can't afford to rent a house that is cheaper, and has humidity or mold in it."
The stresses of her situation have caused complications in her household for her family of five. Her husband is very angry, she said, adding that he constantly lashes out at her and the children.

"Because of financial difficulties facing Syrian families, one of the main coping mechanisms is take children out of schools, either to work, specifically for boys, or to get married off for girls," said Abbas. She stresses that both of these alternatives are violations of child rights and puts them at dangerous risks.

To date, Jordan hosts over 1.3 million Syrian refugees with about 6 in 10 Syrian refugees of working age being unemployed according to ACAPS- Assessment Capacities Project’ - an independent humanitarian information provider.

These numbers mean that like Khadija, most refugees have to rely on humanitarian aid to meet their basic needs. But the modest support doesn't go very far, with JD125 a month and food coupons steadily decreasing to JD75 per month.

"Last month, we had the water cut. I'm worried about my kids because school is about to start and they're going to have to take the bus, and that is costly. I'm worried my kids will be consumed in this poverty," Khadija said.

She has considered drastic options, such as traveling to Europe via Turkey. A journey many Syrians have taken since the Syrian uprising, costing many their lives. "These options take a long time but at least we could have some hope of a possibility of a future," she said.

Khadija added that out of all of the options in the Middle East, Jordan is the best country to be in, and any hardships that she and her family are facing, is only "1 percent of what a refugee is facing in a country like Lebanon for example."

If the best is 7JD for a day of informal work, she mulls over the benefits of a perilous journey to Europe across an open sea.

"I want to leave, and find a better opportunity,” she said. “Not because I dream of a life filled with money, but I want a future for my children, and an education for them."

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