Jordan’s refugees struggle through winter of discontent

The UNHCR in Jordan tries to raise funds for refugees before the harsh winter through a handicrafts bazaar.

al-monitor Refugees showcase their handmade products at the UNHCR's winter fair in Amman, Jordan, Dec. 5, 2017. Photo by Mohammad Ersan.
Mohammad Ersan

Mohammad Ersan


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Dec 17, 2017

Somalian refugee Asmaa and Iraqi refugee Amal sit side by side as they exhibit their handmade products in a bazaar organized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Dec. 5-7.

The “#WithRefugees Winter Bazaar” took place in Amman and was a first by UNHCR. The aim of the bazaar was to showcase the crafts and skills of refugees living in Jordan’s refugee camps and cities. The money earned will provide an additional income for refugees during the difficult months, when they need to stretch their finances further to buy coal or warm clothes.

Asmaa, 22, told Al-Monitor how she came to Jordan in 2015 after she escaped from Somalia to Yemen with her mother and younger siblings. Her father, who is missing in Yemen, will hopefully join them one day, she said.

Asmaa’s stand shows recycled empty jars decorated with fabrics or embroidery. These chic jars can be used as penholders, vases or for storage. She hopes to earn enough money to pay her family’s heating bill this winter. “This is the first time I work in recycling empty jars, as I try to provide some money for my family. We don’t have any work in Amman. Winter is coming and we need to cover heating expenses,” she said.

The exhibition includes handmade products by Sudanese, Iraqi and Palestinian refugees. Various Jordanians and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that help refugees also had a stand in the fair to sell their handmade items.

Most of the fair, however, showcased Syrian handicrafts. Syrian refugee Ahmed al-Qassem exhibited woodwork carved in the Arabesque style using motifs that show nature or geographical shapes seen in the Middle Eastern artworks. “The bazaar allows me to display part of the Syrian culture and exhibit the handicrafts that have been passed on in my family from one generation to the next for 33 years. After war started in Syria, I decided to take the craft to Jordan,” Qassem told Al-Monitor.

The Orenda Tribe, a clothing company, displayed T-shirts that were inspired by the drawings of children in the refugee camps. “We use art to enable marginalized individuals and groups by teaching them to paint. Then we choose drawings by children, print them on clothes and utensils and sell them. Half the revenue goes to the company, the other half to [Syrian and Palestinian] refugees,” Zaid Souqi, the owner, told Al-Monitor.

France’s Ambassador to Amman David Bertolotti attended the first day of the bazaar and was offered souvenirs made by refugees, but he offered to pay for them as a means of support. “Such bazaars are an opportunity to support refugees,” Bertolotti told Al-Monitor, describing the initiative as fantastic.

“Ninety-two participants from different nationalities took part in the bazaar. They included refugees from Somalia, Syria, Iraq and Sudan as well as other nationalities who help refugees from different countries and international NGOs. The financial revenue goes directly to refugees,” Nida Yassin, an external relations associate at UNHCR in Amman, told Al-Monitor.

Yassin said that the bazaar had an impressive turnout, and it will provide the opportunity for refugees who need money to buy blankets and clothes, especially since winter in Jordan is very cold and the refugees live in homes that do not meet dignified living standards.

In his speech at the bazaar inauguration, Stefano Severe, the UNHCR representative in Jordan, called upon everyone to support refugees by buying traditional products.

“The next weeks and months will be bad for refugees in Jordan, as refugees from 40 nationalities will face another winter away from their homes. Cold, rain and snow deal a further blow to their daily struggle,” Mohammad Hawari, UNHCR spokesman in Jordan, told Al-Monitor.

Hawari added, “Refugee families are vulnerable as the majority [over 80%] lives under the monthly poverty threshold [$96]. This percentage increases in winter due to clothing and heating expenses.”

According to Hawari, winter will be especially difficult for the tens of thousands of people all over the country who live in substandard housing. “Damp walls, water leakages, damaged apartments and inadequate clothes may cause cold-related illnesses,” he said.

For Syrian refugees in Jordan, this will be the seventh winter as refugees.

Hawari explained that UNHCR will provide all refugees in camps with shelter maintenance. Other needs will be covered as well: $14 for an individual in Azraq, and $14 for a family in Zaatari. They will also receive money to buy gas tanks for heat and cooking that will last through March.

Concerning UNHCR financial resources, he said, “One-third of our budget will be allocated for refugees living outside the camps, because most refugees in Jordan live in cities all over the country. More than 300,000 refugees from all nationalities will receive winter support in the form of financial aid. UNHCR will focus on weaker groups, including families headed by women, the elderly, people with disabilities, children at risk and people with medical needs.”

To cover winter needs for the refugees, UNHCR needs $22.2 million, only 33% of which has been financed. “We received no donations, especially for winter efforts, until now. This is why we allocate funds from other important fields of the process to guarantee that the weakest families will be warm this winter,” Hawari added.

UNHCR will support all those who live in camps in accordance with their specific needs: gas, shelter rehabilitation, maintenance support, isolation material, high thermal blankets and heaters.

Statistics obtained by Al-Monitor show that Syrians are the largest group of refugees with 655,000 adults and children, followed by the Iraqis with 65,000 refugees, then the Yemenis with 9,000, the Sudanese with 4,000, Somalis with 808 and other nationalities with 1,552.

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