No place for children

Blogs, In the field article written on the 26 Sep 2013

Written by Helen Szoke, Chief Executive of Oxfam Australia

Later on my first day in Jordan, I visited an informal settlement adjacent to a food processing factory in Java on the outskirts of Amman. The people here live in makeshift tents; they purchase their drinking water, and use potable water from the food processing factory for other uses. They have temporary toilets and the surrounding area is strewn with rubble and rubbish.

The squalor and the confronting nature of the accommodation was confirmed after meeting a family who had just received a cash payment for basic supplies. This man has five children and has shifted at least 10 times in the past seven months. He has one child who is diabetic and his one-year-old son has serious heart problems. Access to medical care is a big issue.

He said – looking out over the dust and squalor of the temporary toilets and the rubbish and rubble – that this place was like a disease. While we spoke, 20 to 30 children milled around the campsite, all primary-school-aged and unable to attend school.

The Jordanian school system already operates with a double shift in an attempt to cope with the thousands of extra students that have flooded over the border since the conflict began. But without money for books or transport to school, these children are missing out on crucial years of their education. It is like their life is on hold – not wanting to stay in Jordan but not able to return home to Syria.

Despite the enormous challenges of what I saw, there was also great humanity. I visited a community-based organisation that worked with refugee women who laughed and joked with each other, and with us. Through our translator, we talked about how they are building new social networks and relationships.

They spoke of being grateful for the help that they had received and showed the collegiality that comes from people facing adversity together. There is a long way to go before the Syrian crisis is resolved.

We need to begin looking beyond immediate humanitarian needs and be ready to support these families through a longer-term response that can bring at least a small sense of stability back to their lives.