As the Syrian crisis enters its fifth year, Salwa Dawoud Badawi, an aid worker with Islamic Relief Jordan, reports on the conditions facing Syrian refugees living in Jordan – and how Islamic Relief is helping.

Since March 2011, millions of people have been forced from their homes in Syria. More than 747,000 have fled across the border to Jordan. According to the UNHCR, two-thirds of refugees are women and children. As an aid worker with Islamic Relief, I am witness to the hardships they face. For two years, I have worked with and for refugees in Al-Zatari camp – which has become one of the world’s biggest refugee camps – as well as other camps and communities.

Poverty and work

Many families had comfortable homes and a decent income before the fighting. Having left behind everything to escape to Jordan, they typically live in poor-quality accommodation and receive only food coupons which are inadequate for their needs. Children are malnourished and those of working-age struggle to earn a living to provide for their families.

“The work permit will cost me more than a thousand Jordanian dinars (almost GBP £918),” said Mohammed Nour, 44. “I cannot afford it [but] without it… I will be deported. If I proceed in applying for a work permit, I must waive [my claim] for asylum. We need your help.”

Finding shelter

Children living in informal camps in Mafraq.

Children living in informal camps in Mafraq.

Faced with such a situation, many families are trapped in poverty. With the cost of rental accommodation continuing to rise, one of the biggest issues is finding the money to pay for shelter. Thanks to our big-hearted donors, Islamic Relief is able to help the most vulnerable families by paying their rent for at least three months. The scheme is a lifeline for Firyal, 47, a widow living with her children in Al-Mafraq.

“The landlord will definitely evict me and my children,” she said. “We will end up on the streets if I don’t pay the rent on the due date. We need your help to continue paying for the rent.”

This winter has been particularly hard for refugee families facing the elements in poor-quality accommodation, tents and makeshift shelters. Water leaks have destroyed possessions and roofs have collapsed, exposing families to extreme cold as temperatures dropped below freezing. Our winterisation project provided 24,909 people with essential items such as blankets, heaters and clothing vouchers.

Vulnerable children

It is thought that 85 per cent of the Syrian children now living in Jordan are in need of psychosocial support to come to terms with all they have experienced. Most of the children have lost a father or a mother – and sometimes both. Ahmad, 11, was one of many to arrive in a grave medical situation. He had to have his hand amputated here in Jordan.

“I keep dreaming of barrels and bombs, hitting our houses,” he said. “The noises of the explosives are a part of my life.”

Infrastructure and services strained

Patients like Ahmad require ongoing medical follow-up and support to get used to their condition. However, the Jordanian health system is straining under the influx of refugees. Medicines and medical services are in shortage, leaving people are unable to access the care they need.

Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have access to food thanks to WFP e-cards distributed by Islamic Relief Jordan.

Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have access to food thanks to WFP e-cards distributed by Islamic Relief Jordan.

It is a similar story for the education system. Schools are struggling to cope with the large number of Syrian students, shortage of teachers and equipment and gaps in transportation. In addition, many refugee families cannot provide the official documents required to enroll in school.

“I could not bring the official papers required,” said Huda, a mother-of-eight, whose children are unable to access education and the chance to build better futures. “My focus was to flee Dara as soon as possible to save the lives of my children.”

All vital sectors are strained and unemployment is increasing – particularly among young Jordanian people. This is fuelling rising community tensions, particularly since most refugees are hosted in already poor communities, making projects such as Islamic Relief’s peace-building work in partnership with the Lutheran World Federation absolutely critical.

“We want to go home”

The refugees that I have met just want to return home, but as Syria enters its fifth year of fighting, this remains a dream.

“We are homesick,” said Fathi, 38. “We want to go home. I believe we need a miracle.  I am planting some vegetables that keep reminding me of my beloved Dara whenever I look at them. Help us fulfill our dream.”

As the brutal, protracted conflict continues, the world’s attention is starting to shift elsewhere. Yet Syrian refugees and poor Jordanian people remain in limbo. Islamic Relief is determined to be there for vulnerable people, for as long as it takes.

Islamic Relief has been working around the clock to help affected people since the onset of the crisis four years ago. We will not give up. Support our work: Donate to our Syria Crisis Appeal now, and join in the conversation at #4Syria.