Jordan study finds tough living conditions among Syrian urban and other non-camp refugees

Briefing Notes, 18 March 2014

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Dan McNorton to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 18 March 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

A joint UNHCR and International Relief and Development survey has found increasingly difficult conditions among the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Jordan living outside camps. Fifty per cent of refugee dwellings are inadequate and hundreds of thousands struggle to pay their rent, according to the findings.

The survey shows the day-to-day survival struggle of some 450,000 registered Syrian refugees as they face rising rents, inadequate housing and educational challenges for their children.

The study was based on 92,000 interviews with families conducted during home visits between June 2012 and October 2013. It shows the difficulties that refugees face outside camps, despite the support that Jordan offers to them, including free access to the public health care and education systems.

Almost four-in-every-five Syrian refugees in Jordan live outside formal camps. As their resources dry, many are turning to "negative coping mechanisms" to make ends meet, sometimes placing themselves at risk of exploitation.

More than 90 per cent of the population surveyed live in rented accommodation. Rents for Syrians rose in 2012 and 2013 by as much as 25 per cent in some locations. Rent was 135 Jordanian Dinars or about $190 on average and accounted for almost two thirds of refugee expenditure. Half of Syria's refugees feel they live in inadequate dwellings, including badly ventilated apartments that suffer from damp or molds.

The study noted that 61 per cent of Syrian children covered did not go to school during the 2012-2013 academic year. Among those at school, five per cent reported having dropped out. UNHCR with our partners continues to look into the reasons, but these include challenges adjusting to the Jordanian curriculum, inability to catch up, having to work to earn money for their families, and, not least, the over-stretched capacity of the Jordanian public education system.

The report also suggests that Syrian refugees are becoming increasingly self-reliant. Access to legal employment in Jordan is a challenge for refugees. However, the proportion of cases who reported receiving an income from work rose from 28 per cent to 36 per cent between 2012 and 2013. The proportion of refugees who reported receiving an income from humanitarian assistance and charities decreased from 63 per cent to 49 per cent.

UNHCR and IRD continue to interview some 10,000 refugee households every month in an effort to maintain an understanding of new or worsening vulnerabilities among refugee families. UNHCR undertakes separate assessments of the refugee population living in camps.

There are currently 584,600 registered Syrian refugees in Jordan.

For further information:

The full report and related multimedia media materials are available at: http://www.unhcr.org/urban/

  • In Amman, Volker Schimmel (English, German): + 962 79 98 26 246
  • In Amman, Hélène Daubelcour (English, French): + 962 79 88 91 307
  • In Amman, Ali Bibi (English, Arabic): + 962 77 77 11 118
  • In Geneva: Dan McNorton on mobile +41 79 217 3011
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Haunted by a sinking ship

Thamer and Thayer are two brothers from Syria who risked their lives in the hope of reaching Europe. The sea voyage was fraught with danger. But home had become a war zone.

Before the conflict, they led a simple life in a small, tight-knit community they describe as "serene". Syria offered them hope and a future. Then conflict broke out and they were among the millions forced to flee, eventually finding their way to Libya and making a desperate decision.

At a cost of US$ 2,000 each, they boarded a boat with over 200 others and set sail for Italy. They knew that capsizing was a very real possibility. But they hadn't expected bullets, fired by militiamen and puncturing their boat off the coast of Lampedusa.

As water licked their ankles, the brothers clung to one another in the chaos. "I saw my life flash before my eyes," recalls Thayer. "I saw my childhood. I saw people from when I was young. Things I thought I no longer remembered."

After ten terrifying hours, the boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, throwing occupants overboard. Rescue, when it finally came, was too late for many.

Theirs was the second of two deadly shipwrecks off the coast of Lampedusa last October. Claiming hundreds of lives, the disasters sparked a debate on asylum policy in Europe, leading Italian authorities to launch the Mare Nostrum search and rescue operation. To date, it has saved more than 80,000 people in distress at sea.

Eight months on, having applied for asylum in a sleepy coastal town in western Sicily, Thamer and Thayer are waiting to restart their lives.

"We want to make our own lives and move on," they explain.

Haunted by a sinking ship

A Teenager in Exile

Like fathers and sons everywhere, Fewaz and Malak sometimes struggle to coexist. A new haircut and a sly cigarette are all it takes to raise tensions in the cramped apartment they currently call home. But, despite this, a powerful bond holds them together: refugees from Syria, they have been stranded for almost a year in an impoverished neighbourhood of Athens.

They fled their home with the rest of the family in the summer of 2012, after war threw their previously peaceful life into turmoil. From Turkey, they made several perilous attempts to enter Greece.

Thirteen-year-old Malak was the first to make it through the Evros border crossing. But Fewaz, his wife and their two other children were not so lucky at sea, spending their life savings on treacherous voyages on the Mediterranean only to be turned back by the Greek coastguard.

Finally, on their sixth attempt, the rest of the family crossed over at Evros. While his wife and two children travelled on to Germany, Fewaz headed to Athens to be reunited with Malak.

"When I finally saw my dad in Athens, I was so happy that words can't describe," says Malak. However, the teenager is haunted by the possibility of losing his father again. "I am afraid that if my dad is taken, what will I do without him?"

Until the family can be reunited, Malak and his father are determined to stick together. The boy is learning to get by in Greek. And Fewaz is starting to get used to his son's haircut.

A Teenager in Exile

Jihan's Story

Like millions, 34-year-old Jihan was willing to risk everything in order to escape war-torn Syria and find safety for her family. Unlike most, she is blind.

Nine months ago, she fled Damascus with her husband, Ashraf, 35, who is also losing his sight. Together with their two sons, they made their way to Turkey, boarding a boat with 40 others and setting out on the Mediterranean Sea. They hoped the journey would take eight hours. There was no guarantee they would make it alive.

After a treacherous voyage that lasted 45 hours, the family finally arrived at a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, called Milos - miles off course. Without support or assistance, they had to find their own way to Athens.

The police detained them for four days upon their arrival. They were cautioned to stay out of Athens, as well as three other Greek cities, leaving them stranded.

By now destitute and exhausted, the family were forced to split up - with Ashraf continuing the journey northwards in search of asylum and Jihan taking their two sons to Lavrion, an informal settlement about an hour's drive from the Greek capital.

Today, Jihan can only wait to be reunited with her husband, who has since been granted asylum in Denmark. The single room she shares with her two sons, Ahmed, 5, and Mohammad, 7, is tiny, and she worries about their education. Without an urgent, highly complex corneal transplant, her left eye will close forever.

"We came here for a better life and to find people who might better understand our situation," she says, sadly. "I am so upset when I see how little they do [understand]."

Jihan's Story

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