Calling All Crows

What Does It Feel Like To Be A Refugee?

What Does It Feel Like To Be A Refugee?

Image: Young Syrian and Palestinian refugees and Jordanian youth discuss strategy for their football game organised by Oxfam and the youth club in the Baqa'a refugee camp in Amman, Jordan. Image by: Suzi O Keefe

What does it feel like to be a refugee? Perceptions from Za’atari and beyond

What does it feel like to be a refugee, forced to flee to an unfamiliar country and dependent on humanitarian assistance to survive? How do you know where to turn, who to trust for accurate information and how to meet the basic needs of your family? In order to better understand the ways in which Syrian refugees in Jordan experience the international humanitarian response we commissioned a research project [LLG1] on refugee perceptions. We aimed to not only improve our own service delivery and communication with refugees but also to ensure that the voices of those affected by the crisis help to shape the humanitarian response now and in the future.

Jordan has become home to nearly 600,000 registered refugees fleeing the brutal conflict in Syria and the strain on Jordan’s infrastructure and public services is showing. While media reports often relay crowded images from Za’atari camp, 80% of the refugees who have crossed the border are living in host communities outside refugee camps. Syrian refugees living around cities and villages are not legally permitted to work and are, therefore, reliant on humanitarian assistance.

Numerous governmental and UN agencies, as well as international and local NGOs are providing humanitarian relief in an attempt to alleviate the suffering of refugees and strengthen the resilience of host communities in Jordan.  However, in a stark reminder of the daily challenges that refugees face, 50% of the study’s respondents in both Za’atari refugee camp and in urban-based host communities, as well as informal tented settlements, reported difficulties in accessing basic services.

In Za’atari, a striking 74% of the study’s respondents identified distance as a barrier to accessing services. This may sound strange when thinking about refugees concentrated into one area, but recent estimates now place Za’atari as Jordan’s fourth largest city with between 80,000 and 120,000 residents. Another 25% of respondents said that lack of knowledge or information of the services prevented them from receiving aid. In the host communities too, distance and lack of knowledge of services are cited as factors for the lack of access to quality medical, educational and nutritional services.

The study indicated that a vast number of respondents relied on word of mouth for information on services, making beneficiaries vulnerable to rumors, manipulation of information, and general gaps in communication. This is especially difficult in host communities where refugees are spread out across different areas. In both the camps and the host communities, it was evident that refugees did not feel there was clear communication about the kinds of services available to them. Our report lists a number of recommendations to the Government of Jordan, donors, UN agencies and NGOs operating in the country, on how to strengthen services provision.   For example, the UN and NGO actors must develop better ways to receive and incorporate feedback from beneficiaries and be attentive to gender-based mobility restrictions by conducting more home visits, recruiting more female field staff and targeting women when disseminating information about services.

Oxfam is actively working to incorporate these recommendations into our current programming. To improve communities’ knowledge of the range of services in different sectors, we are distributing leaflets with information on other service providers, specifically targeting Syrian refugee peer groups and volunteers. Legal entitlements were another area where respondents to the survey indicated they lacked information. Oxfam is now working with local partner ARDD [LLG2] to hold awareness sessions on legal rights of refugees in Jordan. In addition, we are working to improve hotline services, adding an extra line and more staff to respond to beneficiaries, and setting up call and information centers in project areas to receive complaints and feedback.

While the crisis shows no signs of abating, it is essential that refugees are aware of their rights and the services available to them in Jordan if they are to live in dignity. The daily lives of Syrians have changed dramatically. How do humanitarian actors ensure that their basic needs are met and human rights respected, while at the same time tackling the misconceptions of our work among some community members? We will use the study to answer this and many other questions in order to improve our services and the work we do on a local and international level. We hope it also helps others to understand – even to a small degree - about what it means to be displaced, far from home and dependent on others.

Dress Up for Charity

Dress Up for Charity

Katelyn Demers (guest columnist)- Katelyn is a local teacher and has participated in many CAC events the past few months including the Northampton Halloween 5K.

I have felt like I could change the world for some time now. First, as a teacher, and now an assistant principal of middle school students, I have always felt it is critical to instill in our children empathy and the power to make a difference in their world. We do this in several ways. This year we started #dressup4charity. Each month we choose a charity. In September, it was Tuesday’s Children, in October’s Rachel’s Challenge. Prior to the second Wednesday of each month, we advertise on our morning news, creating awareness around the charity and the events that led up to it. We have conversations with our students around September 11, bullying, violence in schools. . . We encourage students to talk to their parents. Then, on the second Wednesday, the students come to school dressed up and make a small donation, if they choose, on their way into school. In just 5 months, the 472 students at Horace Mann Middle School have raised close to $5,000 for various charities. Even more, our students have started conversations. Our students have raised awareness. Our students have done something. Our charity for the month of February is Calling All Crows.

On April 15, 2013, two bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Helpless, we watched endless footage. We showed support in ways we knew how; we talked with our families and students about the senseless tragedy. It was at the House of Blues in Boston, MA for the Dropkick Murphy’s benefit show that we first heard Chadwick Stokes (Though my boyfriend will tell the story of a how he saw him on a woodcarving show years ago). The show was emotional and powerful; we left feeling as if we could change the world. After looking into who Chad Stokes was, we realized that we liked only his music, but his message, so we began to listen and follow what was going on. We joined Calling All Crows for the 2013 Northampton, MA 5K and we attended his living room show and concert at the Paradise in December. It was the benefit weekend that inspired me to not only choose Calling All Crows for our February charity, but to educate our students about the crisis in Syria. Furthermore, I am starting discussions with my students about the sacrifices Chad and Sybil have made to use their talent to better the world and their talents to raise awareness. I think it is an important message for my students to hear: An incredible musician uses his voice to raise money for those in need, rather than for himself.

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