Sunday, October 20, 2013

For Syrian refugees in Jordan, aid from Israel comes in a whisper

AL MAFRAQ, Jordan — Sultana is 23 years old and very hungry. She grew up in the suburbs east of Damascus, but when her house was firebombed by an airplane belonging to the Syrian regime, she fled the city in the night along with her husband and their five children.  Together, the group trekked south toward safety across the Jordanian border, adding their numbers to the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have swarmed this remote, impoverished corner of the Hashemite Kingdom while Syrian President Bashar Assad’s reign of terror shows no signs of abating.  

Sultana and her family were initially placed in one of the two UN mega-camps in the region, which have swelled into bona fide cities of transients and their tents. Like other refugees, she declined to have her last name used out of security concerns.

In the camp, disease and crime fester amid the more than 200,000 refugees desperately trying to feed themselves and stay alive. Local NGOs say that on most days, 700 to 1,000 more Syrians cross the border and add to the toll.

Syrian women outside the NGO’s office after receiving their distribution bags (photo credit: Mickey Alon)
Fearing infection and frustrated with the overcrowding, Sultana and her family took their tents and moved to a smaller outpost, one of a handful of ad hoc mini-camps that have popped up amid the arid plains near the Jordanian town of Al-Mafraq. She may not realize it, but now her food, cooking oil and cleaning supplies come to her thanks to an Israeli aid organization and a network of Jewish donors across the Diaspora, including the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, the AJC, World Jewish Relief and the Pears Foundation.

Late last week, minutes before a sandstorm whipped through the region and rendered Sultana and her family even more invisible than they already are, a van driven by a Jordanian NGO volunteer and carrying a volunteer from IsraAid, an Israeli humanitarian aid agency, pulled up at the camp. About 125 refugees live here in 25 dirt-spattered tents, cut off from the primary aid organs that pump food and water into the bigger local camps of Zaatari and Mrajeeb Al Fhood. One by one, the refugees here lined up and waited to be called by name to the van, where fat purple bags filled with lentils, rice, sugar and other dry goods sat ready for distribution.