Interview: “This is also about the dignity of refugees’

Interview: “This is also about the dignity of refugees’ image 1
Kevin Fitzgerald (left) with Thomas Schwarz. © 2012 Lise Tonelli/CARE

Thomas Schwarz of CARE Germany recently spoke with Kevin Fitzcharles, country director of CARE Jordan, about CARE's work with and for refugees from Syria.

THOMAS SCHWARZ: Syrian refugees have been coming to Jordan for a long time now. When did CARE start to support them?

KEVIN FITZCHARLES: We started in April although we did not have funds from private or institutional donors. We initially received about 70,000 Euros from CARE International's own emergency fund. Otherwise we could not have started to work. We hired someone who was responsible for the "initial aid" projects. And we started very quickly with distributing the money among Syrian refugees.

T.S.: It may sound a little strange for some to distribute money instead of food, clothing and other important things. Why did you decide on this form of assistance?

K.F.: We have been doing the same with the Iraqi refugees here in Jordan for six years now. This form of assistance is especially for those who are not in a refugee camp, but live in towns and villages. At first, they stayed with relatives or friends. But sooner or later they had to leave these apartments. Nonetheless, they have to buy clothes and food and pay their medical bills. And the only way to do this is to have money. That is normal. This kind of support is also about the dignity of refugees. They decide for themselves how they spend their money rather than being told by us. There are clear criteria for the distribution of course. We give money only once and not to everybody.

T.S.: You spoke about the refugees living in towns. Why are people hesitating to go to the refugee camp "Zaatari"?

K.F.: Well, about half of the first wave of refugees consisted of Syrians who were reasonably well off. In any case they did not need any support. They had sufficient means to help themselves or to stay with family and friends. The other half consisted of simple people, farmers and day laborers. Those who did not have a place to stay were housed in temporary camps. This went on for about a year. Many do not have their papers because the Syrian government took their passports. Once 5,000 refugees came in a single night, sometimes it is 2,000 or 1,500 refugees per night. At the moment there are fewer refugees, but it continues regardless. One cannot simply put all these people in a camp. They have to be registered and one has to be able to care for them, and so on.

T.S.: CARE has been working not only here in close cooperation with the UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency), but also in many other countries. You do not work in the refugee camp, but outside. Can you imagine that in the future, CARE will work in the camp?

K.F.: As long as many refugees continue to live in the cities and need support, we will continue with our work together with the UNHCR. Of course, it may be that we are going to work in a potentially new refugee camp. If the UN asks us, we could work in the areas water and sanitation, or help with shelter. That is what we are doing in other refugee camps around the world.

T.S.: Let us take a look into the future: I am often asked how long this refugee crisis is going to continue and when the civil war is going to end. Do you have an idea of how long this will take?

K.F.: How long? No, I have no idea. When the Iraqis came to Jordan, no one would have thought that they would stay here for so long. I do not like to say it, but it may be that this refugee crisis could go on for a very long time.

T.S.: The current situation in the refugee camp Zaatari is not perfect. However, much is being done and it is progressing well. One can say that much. How do you assess the situation in the camp? What needs to be done there still?

K.F.: It is certain that we already have to plan for the winter. Here in Jordan, temperatures will be between zero and five degrees [Celsius]. Moreover, there will be cold, icy wind in the area around Zaatari. Tents will not help much then.

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