Saturday, January 4, 2014

An Iraqi Refugee - Living Simply, Strongly and Generously in the Face of Alexa and Fireworks!


Her name is Um Mohammad, I don't know what her real name is, at the first glance in front of her house which is basically a tent in Amman, you'd think she is in her sixties, after a few words from her, which are usually strong and confident attempting to wipe away the tears that start falling down her cheeks, you'd realize she is probably a decade younger. 

Um Mohammad is an Iraqi refugee, she came to Jordan with her family that consisted of three daughters and two sons. Her husband passed away, and was followed by a daughter, a son and a son in law, leaving her with three orphaned grandchildren to take care of.

Um Mohammad doesn't work and hasn't finished her education - a case in point that life is not sexist so we should equip both genders to face it - she is a very simple human being. When I come to think about how she lives, it strikes me that this family literally lives one day at a time, they don't deal with money, they live off what good people provide them with from food, clothes and medicine. The idea of living in a house is too hard to be attained, this is her wildest dream, so she focuses on what she can do, to feed her family every day, to survive the winter's cold and summer's heat, hoping that life doesn't give her more challenges to deal with. But, it does. two weeks ago, her brother passed away in Iraq and a few months ago her daughter got divorced, her daughter has just given birth to a new baby, which means a new struggle to secure survival for this little one.

She lives between Amman and Jordan Valley because the valley is warmer in winter, but this year she decided to stay in Amman because there aren't enough food donors there.

Whenever you visit her, she mentions her Palestinian neighbours, also in tents, and thanks God life is kinder to her. "Can I give some to my neighbour?" she asks whenever you offer her anything. Leaving you wondering; is your good deed is as good as hers? Can you ever be that detached from "things" as Um Mohammad is? Can you ever be that selfless? Can you ever have such strong faith to give away what you need knowing that God will take care of you if you take care of his people? Only if we could learn from Um Mohammad!
If we all give as much as she does, pro rate to how much we have, I doubt we'd have any sort of problems, ever. I also doubt we'd have broken the world's record for the largest fireworks show on New Year's eve, or maybe we would have without feeling guilty or like hypocrites.

Um Mohammad says she used to receive 180 JDs a month from the UNHCR. "Once the Syrians came to Jordan we stopped receiving money, I know of another 60 Iraqi families who stopped receiving money as well". 

 
The situation of Iraqi refugees in Jordan has deteriorated after the Syrian refugees started fleeing to Jordan. "What we're really concerned about now is that it seems the number of Iraqis is increasing," said Dominique Hyde, representative of UNICEF in Jordan. "Our focus obviously has been on Syrians."  

The number of Iraqis in Jordan assisted by the UNHCR remains stable at around 29,000 of the 450,000 Iraqi refugees living in the Kingdom. This number is evened out by the new arrivals and resettlement departures as Iraqi refugees keep coming to Jordan. 200-250 Iraqis have continued fleeing to Jordan every month during the past couple of years, and last year's new arrivals averaged 400 a month. Despite those figures UNHCR operation in Jordan focusing on Iraqi refugees and asylum-seekers has been consolidated over the past few years in view of budgetary constraints.
 
Many of the refugees from Iraq are hidden within the poorest areas of Amman, the majority without community support or the right to work are becoming increasingly vulnerable, requiring assistance and protection.  


"There are around 30,000 vulnerable Iraqi individuals in Jordan. They are not going to go away any time soon, and they need help. Who is going to provide them with help? Kevin Fitzcharles, CARE's country director in Jordan. "While they may have had coping mechanisms when they first arrived, that's run out." said Andrew Harper, UNHCR's representative in Jordan. 

It seems that the world keeps failing at finding sustainable solutions for refugees, of all nationalities, and problems don't seem to be ending, instead they keep accumulating one crisis after another. what is going to happen to all those people?  

Alexa came and unlike many of us who were at home, complaining about the TV, dealing with the electricity cuts and the blocked roads, Um Mohammad was doing fine in her tent, "we were okay, we managed to keep warm, we had wood but it got wet, so we had to go to the gas station to get some gas and start fire, but we had food, and we had clothes". 
Alexia manifested the discrepancy and the irony we live in, what we care for, our "first-world" problems and Um Mohammad's "not too bad, manageable" problems. While listening, she was the one comforting me as I couldn't control my facial expressions reflecting my sorrow, sadness and silliness.

Living with Um Mohammad, there are 5 children, none is going to school. 4 are girls, one of them is Mongolian.

What will happen to this family? Food is not the problem anymore, what kind of a life is this? What kind of a generation do we expect to rise without proper education and without a healthy life?

Injustice is not something we should get used to seeing. We shouldn't accept that some people get to live in tents and that some children don't get to go to school.

Solution? The international community should shelter those families. The money owners in Iraq should shelter those families. The rich Arab countries should shelter those families. Jordan has done what it can, spreading itself thin to help. The rest of the world has not gone broke, the world has money that is being spent on fireworks and entertainment, which would only be legitimate when the fireworks we love seeing are not the only roof some families have over their heads.

Meanwhile, and until the world moves, find a poor neighbour, visit, talk and help them. Think of a sustainable help, maybe teach them, help them figure out what they can do, but most importantly, let them teach you how to live simply, strongly and generously.

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