Communities grow stronger together in the face of COVID19

UNHCR’s Community Support Committees run by refugee and Jordanian volunteers help local communities in Southern Jordan to deal with the impact of the crisis

Southern Jordan, a land of desert, mountains and sea. From Wadi Rum to Petra and Aqaba, this is an area known for its world-renowned destinations, where tourists come to spend their holidays.  Thus, not many associate the South with hosting refugees compared to its Northern Governorate neighbors which border Syria. But as the crisis in Syria approaches its tenth year, more refugees continue to choose smaller towns in the South as the place in which to build their lives.  

In Karak, Tafila, Ma’an and Aqaba, there are approximately 25,000 refugees registered with UNHCR, mostly Syrians, but also few Yemenis and Sudanese.  Baraa, a community volunteer in Tafila, explains that her family decided to move there a year after they arrived to Jordan in 2013 because the customs and traditions were closer to those they were used to back in Syria, “I felt there was harmony here. I felt integrated and this eased my alienation and missing my homeland.” 

Despite this, Baraa says that because there are fewer refugees living in the area compared to Irbid and Mafraq, there are not as many humanitarian organizations operating to support the refugee population. This, she says, is one of the reasons she was motivated to join UNHCR’s Community Support Committee (CSC).  

Run by refugee and Jordanian volunteers, in cooperation with local NGOJordanian Hashemite Fund for Human Development (JOHUD)UNHCR supports 2CSC’s across Jordan, including in Karak, Tafila, Ma’an and Aqaba. The main role of the CSC’s is to enhance protection through community engagement, contributing to the peaceful coexistence and social cohesion between refugees and host communities, as well as supporting the more vulnerable families in their neighborhoods. 

Prior to COVID19, many of the CSC activities, such as English classes, women empowerment sessions and livelihood trainings, were run in community centres. But over the last eight months, most of these have now moved online. 

Baraa receives phone calls from refugees asking for assistance, from healthcare, to cash and renewing their registration documents, at home in Tafila. 

“It has certainly been a challenge,” Baraa says, “I’ve had more calls from refugees in the last few months than ever before. Because of coronavirus, people have been contacting me a lot asking for assistance as their work has stopped.” 

Another major concern for refugees is mental health due to the impact of the COVID pandemic. However, in remote areas there is often no immediate medical support available, and so the direct interaction with CSC volunteers become essential part of the response. 

One of the main roles of community volunteers like Baraa is to act as a bridge between local refugee communities and UNHCR, collecting information about protection concerns and referring vulnerable families who are in particular need of support.  

Noor checks in on her neighbors, a fellow Syrian refugee family who she helped find them a flat in Ma’an, Jordan.

In Karak and Maan, Noor and Baker, two other refugee community volunteers, confirm Baraa’s experience that COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on refugee and Jordanian communities alike. Nour in particular jokes that she has now become an estate agent as well as community volunteer “I have been constantly helping refugees try and find new places to live as they are increasingly being evicted when they can’t pay their rent.”  

Despite all the challenges, all say that the spirit of community has only become stronger amid the coronavirus crisis. 


Baker visits a single mother and her five children at home in Karak.


Baker visits a single mother and her five children at home in Karak.


Baker plays with local Jordanain and refugee children in the street near his home in Karak

“It doesn’t matter where you come from, whether you are Jordanian or Syrian, if you don’t have enough money to buy groceries that day, a neighbor will cook you a meal. If you need someone to drive to you to the hospital in an emergency, there will always be someone around to take you,” says Baker.