The most current UNHCR statistics on Syrian refugees in Jordan report that some 20% live in established refugee camps like Za'atari and Azraq, while over 80% live in Jordanian cities. However, due to increasing costs of living, especially rent, some refugees establish what is known as Informal Tented Settlements (ITS) outside the cities.
These settlements are highly vulnerable; they are not officially recognised by the Jordanian government, and can therefore be dismantled without due notice. Furthermore, refugees living in these conditions are often not eligible for education, healthcare, and basic services. The UN and REACH found that the number of ITS camps increased by 320.8% from 2014 to 2015, with an estimated 11,000 people living in them across the country. Some reports are stating that this year, the number is closer to 16,000 refugees.
This week, we went to one of these camps in Mafraq, a city where around 50% of the population is now Syrian. This camp has 20 families from Syria who live together in a mix of tents and basic brick houses. While we were there, we distributed 20 boxes of a month's supply of food for each family, as well as two boxes of animal food for their livestock. The inhabitants of the ITS told us that their most pressing need at the moment is clothing and shoes for the children, as well as diapers and basic food supplies. Despite the difficulties they face, a former teacher who now lives in this settlement have started a school. All the children are now able to read and write, and attend school daily.
To help them, we are going back next week to provide one man with a wheelchair, and we will begin reaching out to the community here in Zarqa and Amman to organise a clothing drive. We also hope that through donations made to us for our Christmas Project, we can buy these people gas heaters to keep them safe and warm this winter.
Visible disabilities can be a challenging subject to discuss in the Middle East.
While traditionally the subject has been somewhat taboo, things are really changing over here. In fact, Prince Mired of the Hashemite dynasty in Jordan has publicly advocated for making disabilities more visible in society, so as to help these vulnerable people's lives. We feel honoured to be part of making this happen!
The past month, RUP has been busy locating refugees who need wheelchairs and providing support to them.
We have been lucky enough to distribute 23 of our 35 wheelchairs in the past four weeks, and are hoping to finish this first distribution by Christmas. The people who have received them have been a mix of Syrian and Palestinian refugees, as well as Jordanian people with disabilities. It's great to be able to help such a diverse group of people!
The wheelchairs come in three sizes and can be assembled in about 20 minutes, and are from the Free Wheelchair Mission. Each wheelchair comes with tools and a pump for the wheels, so the owner can adjust it as they wish. We sincerely hope these gifts can make life easier for them, and we have already spotted a few around town here in Zarqa, Jordan.