Crisis in Syria: Packing My Suitcase
By Johanna Mitscherlich, October 2013
I am moving my belongings from one corner of my flat to another, stacking shirts, pants and jackets, piling books and my travel documents. I am debating what my neighbor might be able to make use of, what I should leave here stored in boxes or what I should take with me for the coming months, when I will work for CARE in Jordan and Lebanon.By Johanna Mitscherlich, October 2013
I am moving my belongings from one corner of my flat to another, stacking shirts, pants and jackets, piling books and my travel documents. I am debating what my neighbor might be able to make use of, what I should leave here stored in boxes or what I should take with me for the coming months, when I will work for CARE in Jordan and Lebanon.
Are the clothes that I have packed long enough? Jordan is a liberal country, but the dress code is still different from the one in Germany. Are the pants and shirts warm enough for the coming weeks, when temperatures plummet – in the winter, there will be blizzards. While I am contemplating whether I should pack my brown down jacket or my black wool coat, I am thinking of the more than half million Syrian refugees who have fled the war to neighboring Jordan, where I am headed.
There are a hundred small choices I have to make while I am packing. Choices that are not available to many Syrians. While I am packing, I try to imagine what it would feel like to have only hours, sometimes only minutes, to grab my belongings – and then not knowing whether I would ever come back home. And if I returned, whether the things I leave behind – my flat, furniture, clothes and photo albums – would still be there. Whether I would return to find my friends and family alive or one of the more than 100,000 casualties that the conflict has claimed since the beginning of 2011.
People in Syria do not have time to store boxes in their basements or write to-do lists. Their priorities are different. They want to live, to survive, to seek shelter. They take only the most important things, such as clothes, medication and maybe one cherished item as a souvenir. For 7-year-old Ghoroob, the most important thing to take was her little pink backpack. For Hala, 25, it was the medication of her son, who suffers from epilepsy.
Behind the news from Syria, behind the struggle for peace negotiations and military threats, the stories of the people for whom this war is a bitter, daily reality, disappear. We don’t hear about refugees with their own stories. From mothers, fathers, grandparents, daughters, sons, couples and siblings. From the young people my age, who have studied in Syria, finished their studies or just started their first job. They are students, teachers, engineers, taxi drivers, shop-owners, lawyers.
Arriving in a foreign country
Behind the refugees lies their home and the country, where they had built up their lives. Ahead of them lies a country they do not know, where they will be dependent on help or face ruin. Many of the Syrian refugees were part of the middle class in their country. They had a good job, owned a house or a flat.
Today, most of the more than 500,000 refugees in Jordan today do not live in Zaatari, the big refugee camp one knows from the news. Instead, they are sharing run-down and shanty flats or empty garages with more than 20 other people, some of them strangers. Their floors are full with mattresses, suitcases stand in the corners. In urban areas, refugees are being forgotten fast. There are few structures and contact points for them. Most of the urban refugees have to handle everything themselves.
The stories of mothers who had to flee alone with their children give us a glimpse of the extent of misery that abounds here: Mothers, who had to sell their wedding rings to pay the rent. Women, who are sending their children to work on the streets instead of registering them in a school, because there is no option for the women to work legally themselves. Mothers, who are giving the few clothes they took with them during their flight to their children to use as blankets during the cold nights.
CARE and other organizations are facing an enormous challenge: The Syrian refugee crisis is the biggest refugee crisis since the 1994 Rwandan genocide and the UN has started the biggest appeal of their history. But the appeal has only been financed to 47 percent so far. Who is most vulnerable and in desperate need? Who do we have to send away without help? I don’t think there can be more difficult questions than these, and my colleagues have to answer them every day in CARE’s refugee centers.
I will support the work of the emergency team in the coming months, will talk to refugees, write about their flight, their experiences, their fears and hopes. I will try to give them a voice and a face. I hope that I will be able to contribute just a little bit, so that despite everything they have lost, they can also gain something: attention for their suffering, which the world seems to have forgotten. What could be a better reason for me to pack my suitcase?
CARE has been working in Jordan since 1948.We have extensive experience working with refugees, providing livelihood training and opportunities, emergency cash assistance, information sharing and psychosocial support. Learn more about the crisis in Syria and what CARE is doing to help >