What do refugees want from the London Conference on Syria?
World leaders will soon gather at a conference in London on Supporting Syria and the Region. The conference aims to “rise to the challenge of raising the money needed to help millions of people whose lives have been torn apart by the devastating civil war”. CARE believes it is also an opportunity to put in place a support and recovery plan for the Middle East that puts refugee rights at its heart.
But what do Syrian refugees themselves want to see from the London conference?
I met several Syrian refugees in Jordan and Turkey during a recent visit (mid-January 2016). Some lived in Azraq refugee camp in Jordan. Some lived in Jordan’s capital city, Amman. Others lived in less urban parts of southern Turkey. I asked them what message they wanted me to bring from them to the London Conference on Syria on 4 February.
Kansa and her husband were farmers in Aleppo, growing grapes, vegetables and cotton. They walked for three days with their two young children to escape to Jordan. All she wanted was for the war to end.
Genaind is 25. After starting a family (she has two daughters aged 2 and 4), she had gone back to high school in Homs in Syria. She fled the war and arrived in Azraq camp one year ago. She keeps in touch with her brothers and mother in Syria using Whatsapp in the CARE ‘Ideas Box’ (an area of the CARE-run community centre in Azraq camp with internet access).
She hoped to go home again soon, Inshallah – God willing. Genaind said that if that couldn’t happen, she’d like to go to a country where she wouldn’t need to live in a refugee camp. But she’d still go home again as soon as she could. Meanwhile, she wanted electricity in her shelter in Azraq camp. (It’s coming, but they have heard that before.)
Naget is from Hama. She had been a tailor in Syria and she was teaching others in the camp how to sew and knit. She and some of her students wanted to be able to come and go from the camp more easily. To feel free.
Muhammed (above) is an artist from Syria. He is volunteering for three months, under the paid volunteers programme, in the CARE ‘Ideas Box’. And he’s making art again. His message is that there are still creative people from Syria who want to make the world a better place.
20-year-old Ali is teaching piano to children in Azraq camp. He had been studying Year 11 science in Damascus. He fled the war and arrived in Jordan in 2012 with his parents and younger siblings. At first they lived in Amman. He worked without a permit in a patisserie, and he’d been caught, so his whole family were moved into the camp. He thought very hard when I asked him what his message to the conference would be. He said, quietly,
I just want the freedom to pursue my talents.
His father, Hassan, had clearly instilled that value for education in all of his family. He was frustrated that people in the camp didn’t have more learning opportunities. But he also said that the cash allowance for food and other basic essentials is not enough. In Azraq camp, families receive £20 per person per month. If refugees are not allowed to work, and are not given enough to survive on, what choice do they have but to seek alternatives elsewhere?
What would you do?
Hussain (above) used to be a basketball coach in the rural district outside Damascus. He is still coaching young men in Azraq camp. He was also a farmer and a welder. He had been in Jordan for three years. He had been working without a permit but had to move to Azraq camp 10 months ago to ensure his baby daughter was legally registered. He wants the freedom to work, and better education in the camps for his children. He said there were sometimes 75 children in a classroom in the camp.
A male engineer from D’dar, who is now volunteering for CARE in Turkey, said:
We are victims of war. We are humans. We had 8,000 years of civilisation in Syria.
A female student from Kobane, now in Turkey, said:
Please tell them we are not just refugees. We are humans, we are Syrians.
Mohammed and Arrila (above, with two of their daughters) fled Kobane in 2014 with their five daughters, two of whom are disabled. Mohammed showed me a photo of their house, now just a bombsite. But they still just want the war to end so they can go home.
Houda (above), a refugee from Iraq, where she had been a head teacher, said:
Refugees were skilled, respected people in their own countries, and will be good citizens in new countries. Meanwhile, just let us work.
Etesan from rural Damascus asked for there to be a safe, formal, legal process for them to apply to move to Europe or North America, so that people would not take the risk of crossing the sea in dangerous boats.
Firas, from Iraq, said:
Jordan, a small and poorer country than anywhere in Europe, has accommodated over a million refugees from Iraq and now Syria for years and years.
So the London Conference on Syria needs to do everything it can to support an end to the conflict, and immediately stop violence against civilians.
Until then, refugees want to have a better livelihood, either by being allowed to work – which they would prefer – or if not that, by increasing the aid for refugees.
Above all, they want to be treated with dignity, as human beings with skills, talents, aspirations, and able to contribute to any society as long as they are allowed to.
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