Crisis in Syria: What Remains Unsaid


By Johanna Mitscherlich, October 2013


On a dusty road in the city of Irbid in the north of Jordan, about an hour's drive from the Syrian border, box-shaped houses with small, barred windows are strung together. White paint chips off brown walls, wires are hanging down, rubble piles are left at the side of the street.

This is where 10-year-old Maraa lives. A narrow, naked staircase leads to her apartment on the second floor of one of the houses. Maraa's mother opens the door and welcomes us into her living room, which serves as both living room and bedroom. Carpets are lying on the cold ground and a single light bulb hangs from the ceiling. There are no pictures or furniture. The only contents of the room are mattresses from UNHCR, which lie in every corner, at every wall.


“We were allowed to take these with us from Zaatari, where we stayed the first days after we fled,” Samiha explains. She left Syria with Maraa and her other seven children after her house and the entire village was destroyed and her husband was killed. She shares her apartment in Irbid with a total of 20 people. In the past months, I have read a lot about how refugees in Jordan and other countries neighboring Syria live. Most of them do not live in refugee camps, but in apartments like the one where Maraa and her family live.


While we are sitting on the mattresses on the floor, Samiha tells us her story. There is something in the air, something I have not read about, have not been able to prepare myself for.   It’s gravity, a heavy haze of sadness that nebulizes the entire room. Maraa and the other children are silent while their mother is talking. Too silent. Children their age should play and banter with each other. But these children are leaning motionlessly against the cold wall. Their eyes seem to fix a spot in the room, something to hold on to, to structure the chaos that surrounds them.


“The children need to go to school, not only to learn, but also to forget what they have experienced in the past months,” Samiha says. But neither Maraa, nor her brother, who tries to knot his FC Barcelona jersey, nor any of the other siblings are going to school.


“The schools’ waiting lists are full,” Samiha explains. Jordan has opened its schools to refugees; some schools have even introduced a second shift to have enough space for all the children. But in some parts of Irbid and other cities, the refugees already outnumber the local population and capacities are fully stretched. For Maraa’s 13-year-old old twin brothers, school is not an option anymore. They have to work. “How else is our family supposed to survive?”


A few weeks ago, Samiha registered in CARE’s refugee centre in Irbid. Here as well as in centers in the capital Amman and the cities Mafraq and Zarqa, refugees can access information about their rights and the different possibilities to receive aid. Social workers and volunteers, who are refugees themselves, speak to the families, give advice and support them with cash assistance and psychosocial aid. Samiha wants to spend this money on rent, to make sure that she and her families have a safe shelter – at least for the coming months.


We say goodbye to the family and head back to Amman. Jallal, one of CARE’s refugee volunteers, who translated from Arabic to English for us, talks about how he feels when he hears all these stories from his fellow Syrians every day.


“It is particularly difficult for me to meet women like Samiha, who have lost their husbands. When I register them and ask them about the situation of their family, they might say that everything is okay so far, that their children are healthy, that they have a place to stay. But there is something in their faces, a deep sadness, which tells the real story. This I cannot fill into any form.”


Samiha, Maraa and more than 2 million other people have fled the war in Syria. But their memories are a constant companion. Their belongings lie under bombed, destroyed houses under rubbish and dirt. Their fear for the ones who are still at home and their grief for family members killed has traveled with them. But their dreams have stayed at home, as well as their future – especially the future of an entire generation of children, who are not going to school.


A week ago, I contemplated what I should pack for my time here in Jordan. Since then I have talked to refugees, who have above all taught me one thing: The most important things in life can't be packed into a suitcase.  Neither safety, nor love for your family and friends, nor your home.

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 >