Jordan

No one wants to be the “Global North”? On being a researcher across the North and South (May, 2019)

No one wants to be the “Global North”? On being a researcher across the North and South

In this blog post I would like to share my personal experiences of carrying out qualitative research in what contemporary scholars call the “Global South” (Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt) and the “Global North” (Australia and the United Kingdom). To convey my message clearly, I adopt the classical political geography of “South” and “North” with the intention of neither confirming these narrow categories nor of universalizing my personal experiences but in order to work towards an honest sociology of knowledge through such peculiar experiences.

In particular, I discuss what I think are some of the emerging behavioral and ethical tendencies in today’s research economy and its main methodologies. On the one hand, the reluctance in the “Southern” environments in recognizing their own tendency to embrace predominant ways of producing knowledge. On the other, the reluctance of “Northern” research entities to acknowledge their own positionality within the global scenario – that is, accepting the fact of conducting research as outsiders and, above all, the sociological harm of pretending localism. The result of these two tendencies is, from my perspective, a globalized impoverished attention to factual awareness, which depends on the personal involvement of researchers in the context they study and the cultivation of the capability to build and rebuild a continual relationship with the subjects and the places studied beyond the duration of fieldwork research.

The “Southern” tendency to perceive the practice of producing research as antithetical or substantially different to the North consistently builds on the universal romanticization of the research produced in the Global South, cutting across the North and the South. Indeed, while the research and academic institutions that I worked for in the Global South tended to believe that their fieldwork quality standards were inherently higher, the fact of being at the mercy of external – and unstable – sources of funding often endangered their existence and alternative ways of working. In these circumstances, fieldwork mostly took place in relatively small timeframes and, likewise, theories needed to be quickly wrapped up, making it difficult to identify any effective counter-culture of knowledge production. Studies on publishing locally and perishing globally have importantly highlighted the material constraints of localizing research. While “Southern” knowledge is barely known and mentioned by North-produced researchers (although it often marks significantly several fields of studies), it is also important to add that, in my own experiences across the Arab world, large segments of upper and middle classes tend to receive their postgraduate education and establish their scholarship in Northern institutions, thereby being trained according to Northern criteria while trying to preserve their reputation of being local researchers. In similar ways, Southern institutions often delegate fieldwork to research assistants who struggle to receive intellectual acknowledgment. (The same acknowledgment that many “Southern” research institutions have been looking for in the international arena, still dominated by Global North’s epistemologies and funding sources). In this regard, I have seen no co-authorships offered to research assistants, who undergo processes of alienation similar to those recently discussed in the context of the institutions of the Global North. Likewise, I have witnessed similarly exploitative relationships which seek to build knowledge upon the anonymity and the belittling of an underpaid workforce, whatever the latter’s passport is.

Despite acknowledging the partially ethnic character of some of these power dynamics – such as European academics versus local researchers in the Arab Levant, mostly when the former lack the necessary linguistic skills and in-depth knowledge of the research settings – I would like to emphasize some nuances. While the global archetype of neoliberal academia certainly does not stem from Southern institutions, largely due to colonial legacies, in my experience I have identified hierarchical and alienating structures of research-making across different cultural patterns of knowledge production.

Dauntingly, ethical research and decolonial methodologies are becoming tokenistic worldwide, turning into a further disenfranchisement of diversely vulnerable researched subjects, such as refugees. In this scenario, the Global North currently promotes itself as a pioneer advocate of ethical research – a phenomenon which has led to a proliferation of publications on the topic, rather than finally aiming for a radical transformation of research and for the uprooting of the vulnerabilities of the researched.

With no intention to bury unequal historical relationships, the intrinsic “non-ethicness” of such structural deficiencies needs to be observed across Norths and Souths. To ethnographers, if quality fieldwork means collecting relevant data, it also needs to mean collecting what matters at a local level and in an appropriate way. Contextual relevance and cultural appropriateness inevitably require generous timeframes. Doing less but long-term research and paying under-explored forms of respect to the researched may be the way to go.

Moreover, a pressing question may center on the tyranny of grants and funding, which is said to dictate the design of today’s projects. To what extent is this the cause of such an unacknowledged sociology of failure in academic research? The present tendency is to design methods that involve an extremely large number of interviews and what I would call the “participatory approach fever”. The result of a misinterpretation of what “participation” should mean is subcontracting scientific evidence to researched subjects overburdened with theoretical expectations and over-theorizations, a tendency which seldom turns out to provide sound empirical evidence. In this vein, Northern-led research not only tends to romanticize the South, which would not be new in postcolonial scholarship, but increasingly invites the South to actively participate in its own romanticization. Affected by “participatory approach fever”, many scholars in the Global North feel urged to depict their work as local, while also missing the fact that sharing their own conscious positionality vis-à-vis the researched would instead be an invaluable point of departure in the effort to avoid ethical and scientific failure. Indeed, such a self-acknowledgment would finally contribute to nuancing the multiple cultures in which research design, data collection, writing, and knowledge production are embedded – cultures that are hardly definable within the categories of “North” and “South”.

In light of these considerations, I ask myself how ethnographic studies can survive without being sociologically relevant and, at times, even culturally appropriate. Subcontracting the production of knowledge either to local researchers or to the researched themselves is certainly not a one-size-fits-all answer. Yet it looks unfeasible for many researchers across the globe to dispose of proper time and funding to conduct research over a longer timeframe and develop a localized understanding of the contexts they wish to study. I identified a similar issue when I realized that some researchers who have a poor command of the local language shy away from hiring an interpreter due to a lack of material means or because they are in an environment that frowns upon social science researchers who lack contextual skills. While peacefully sharing one’s own limits and assets would potentiate empirical analysis overall, everyone wants to be the “voice of the Global South”. Instead, no one wants to be the Global North, impeding a honest sociology of knowledge. Thus, how do we decolonize sociological and anthropological knowledge and, at the same time, the sociology of knowledge, if the drivers of epistemological coloniality, across Norths and Souths, have managed to make themselves invisible?

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Border towns: humanitarian assistance in peri-urban areas (March, 2018)

Humanitarian response in urban areas, Humanitarian Exchange Magazine No. 71.
by Humanitarian Practice Network
March 2018
Humanitarian crises are increasingly affecting urban areas either directly, through civil conflict, hazards such as flooding or earthquakes, urban violence or outbreaks of disease, or indirectly, through hosting people fleeing these threats. The humanitarian sector has been slow to understand how the challenges and opportunities of working in urban spaces necessitate changes in how they operate. For agencies used to working in rural contexts, the dynamism of the city, with its reliance on markets, complex systems and intricate logistics, can be a daunting challenge. Huge, diverse and mobile populations complicate needs assessments, and close coordination with other, often unfamiliar, actors is necessary.
But what precisely is different about doing humanitarian assistance in urban settings? Alyoscia D’Onofrio reflects on this question in his lead article. John Twigg and Irina Mosel emphasise that engaging with and supporting informal actors is key to achieving greater accountability in urban areas, while Leah Campbell and Wale Osofisan both highlight the need for context-relevant responses. Samer Saliba describes the International Rescue Committee (IRC)’s experience in developing partnerships with municipalities, David Sanderson and Pamela Sitko outline ten principles for enacting area-based approaches in urban post-disaster recovery and Chris Pain and Hanne Vrebos discuss Concern’s area-based programme in Port-au-Prince. Ruta Nimkar and Mathias Devi Nielsen look at a new programming approach in urban centres in Afghanistan to address the needs of the long-term displaced. Learning from an urban earthquake simulation exercise in Dhaka is the focus of articles by Charles Kelly and Herma Majoor and Larissa Pelham, who conclude that, to maximise the usefulness of such exercises, more advance training, engagement and preparation is needed. In their article, Jonathan Parkinson, Tim Forster and Esther Shaylor underscore the benefits of using market analysis to support humanitarian WASH programming in urban areas. The edition ends with an article by Estella Carpi and Camillo Boano analysing the potential unintended consequences of the increasing urbanisation of humanitarian response, focusing on border regions neighbouring Syria.

My article with Prof. Camillo Boano can be found here:

https://odihpn.org/magazine/border-towns-humanitarian-assistance-in-peri-urban-areas/

 

Categories: Jordan, Lebanon, Middle East, Turkey, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Humanitarian Pedagogies of Transit (September 2017)

syrian-children-going-to-school-in-turkey

(Syrian refugee children at school in Turkey. Photo credit: worldbulletin.net)

http://www.anthropology-news.org/index.php/2017/09/26/humanitarian-pedagogies-of-transit/

Despite the traditionally temporary character of their interventions, humanitarian agencies providing ad hoc services in crisis-affected areas are increasingly viewing education as a necessity. As such, education has been progressively integrated into the standard humanitarian toolkit. Delivering formal education in crises, however, remains an enormous challenge. On the one hand, development aid does not provide adequate support to countries in long-term crises, and on the other, humanitarian aid generally does not prioritize education. Among displaced communities, education often loses its own acknowledged potential to bring refugees closer to the civic and political fabric of host countries. In early 2015, I observed this challenge first-hand while visiting Za‘atari and Mrajeeb el-Fhood refugee camps in northern Jordan, which are currently home to approximately 142,000 Syrian refugees (UNHCR 2017). In this context, looking at schooling curricula and materials offers interesting research avenues.

One of the most basic educational challenges in refugee settings is that of school dropouts. In 2012, approximately 121 million children were out of school worldwide, of whom 33.8 million were in conflict-affected countries and 6.2 million in Arab states (UNESCO 2015). School dropout rates are often attributed to the daily pressures that make child labor a necessity for many refugee families. However, refugee children face a number of other important barriers in accessing formal education. These barriers may be physical (military checkpoints), bureaucratic (the need to provide documentary evidence of previous schooling), economic (cost of transportation) or linguistic (not speaking the language of formal education in a host country). Moreover, an underappreciated factor affecting dropout rates is the quality of camp schools. Finally, refugees very often initially view displacement as short-lived and think that children can wait to return home to resume formal studies. This short-term approach affects decisions regarding what kind of education refugee children should receive.

From an anthropological perspective, what is interesting is the manner in which school curricula change following displacement and the re-establishment of social networks in new places.

In tackling school dropout rates, international NGOs have increasingly provided education to supplement that officially offered by host states. On a visit to Za‘atari, I spoke with a Syrian woman and a Jordanian teacher who explained that the dropout rate from formal schools financed by NGOs and UN agencies was high; informal NGO education programs had been much more successful than formal classes, even though NGOs did not provide official certificates (cf. HRW 2016). These views are supported by wider data indicating that in Jordan’s Syrian refugee camps children leave school in order to attend informal training seen as more engaging (UNICEF and REACH 2014).

Given this “humanitarianization” of education, the “emergency education” model may reduce our understanding of education to a simple humanitarian toolkit item. Instead, in both home and host states, schooling has myriad consequences. In particular, it contributes to shaping new curricula and ideas, which in turn lead to the emergence of specific political subjectivities and communities (Kenyon-Lischer 2005), which crystallize as a spontaneous response to the provision of various care services. For instance, in Za‘atari, humanitarian assistance—reliable health services, lifesaving vaccines and, sometimes, daily meals—is being provided to children in humanitarian educational spaces. Furthermore, NGOs also use these spaces as hubs to distribute aid to the community (INEE 2011).

From an anthropological perspective, what is interesting is the manner in which school curricula change following displacement and the re-establishment of social networks in new places. The humanitarian system is now one of the main actors providing refugee education and it has been crucial to the emergence of a “pedagogical culture of transit.” In refugee settings, temporary school programs become permanent (in)formal forms of “emergency education”—often delivered through psychosocial support programs—and they shape refugees’ socio-political and civic interaction with their surrounding space. This raises the issue of where camps are located and the extent to which they are segregated from local communities. For instance, Mrajeeb el-Fhood is in an extremely isolated desert location, distant from potential sources of livelihood and critical infrastructure.

These examples point to an important divide between refugee communities and institutional schooling.

I would like to suggest that anthropology has a crucial role to play in investigating the extent to which “emergency education” has been devised as a tool to integrate refugees into the local population or merely as a stopgap measure tailored to refugees as individuals in transit. Throughout my interviews with Syrian refugees in Za‘atari and Mrajeeb el-Fhood, their lack of enthusiasm towards schooling services was evident. Among many other factors, this seemed to play a large role in family decisions to alternately remain in the camps, move within Jordan, or leave the Middle East altogether. For example, most of the children I met in Za‘atari stated that they wanted to return to Syria: in a family of eight children, none was attending school, and four had dropped out two years earlier. Children’s unwillingness to stay in school was certainly related to the ease with which they could access it. However, it also had to do with the perceived low quality of “emergency education” in Jordan—a decisive factor in family decision-making regarding migration. This low quality was largely defined politically; that is, Syrian children felt the education they were receiving did not enable a reconstruction of Syrian history and memory. As Mara’, a nine year old girl from Dara‘a, recounted, “I don’t like schools here. There are 50 pupils in a class, and we don’t learn anything about Syria. No politics, no history … I ended up here, and I don’t know why!” Indeed, all students reported that they were required to follow the Jordanian curriculum. Siham, a 14 year old girl from Eastern Ghouta similarly stated, “I dropped out a year ago. I was wasting my time … I don’t feel the desire any longer to go to school here. The teachers don’t know where I come from.” In a parallel case, a Palestinian refugee I interviewed in Amman argued that values of Palestinian nationhood were promoted principally via NGO education rather than through formal UN schools operating in Palestinian refugee camps. These examples point to an important divide between refugee communities and institutional schooling.

Does such education “of transit” help generate socio-cultural resilience for refugees facing increasingly protracted displacement? Beyond the formation of new collective identities, how do young refugees envision their future within such schools founded on humanitarian goals?

What I call “emergency education” has become integral to emergency relief in diverse crisis-affected zones. On the one hand, some humanitarian donors and teachers use education as a tool to consolidate a specific regional identity. For example, Bahraini, Qatari, and Saudi schools have been established in Za‘atari. Arab Gulf–funded humanitarian services have been strongly associated with the politicization of aid and with the opportunistic formation of new political and social subjectivities (Al-Mezaini 2017). On the other hand, global North humanitarian educational programs are believed to aim ideally to neutralize refugees as political subjects, in accordance with humanitarian principles and security agendas traditionally upheld by a “global liberal governance” (Duffield 2008). In a global context of increasing hostility to migrants, NGOs and UN agencies are concerned less with refugees’ educational aspirations, and more with whether education in crisis settings contributes to social stability in host countries (UNHCR 2015).

In fact, in the Middle East, education has often been thought as a strategy to solidify social control and maintain political order, rather than one to achieve the Western ideal of education as critical to the development of independent political awareness. Likewise, the international emphasis of “emergency education” has often been on integrating refugees into host communities (EU Commission 2016) to achieve social cohesion. In contrast, I argue that in the Middle East, refugee and government schools, as well as other educational programs, have been important (though sometimes unintentional) spaces of political and cultural socialization despite decades of political oppression explicitly aimed at creating and preserving the constituencies of ruling regimes. That is, individual socialization at school occurs through various pathways, some of which are independent from the political reasons behind their establishment.

New concepts of “humanitarian education” are thus emerging that require us to critically unpack humanitarian actions and values beyond their ostensible neutrality. The needs and aspirations of refugees should be the driving force behind building a school in emergencies. In this regard, I ask: Does such education “of transit” help generate socio-cultural resilience for refugees facing increasingly protracted displacement? Beyond the formation of new collective identities, how do young refugees envision their future within such schools founded on humanitarian goals?

My preliminary research on “emergency education” looks beyond what role schooling plays in conflict and in peace building—alternately a victim of attacks or complicit with the perpetrators (Pherali 2016). Instead, it asks what the implications are of a “pedagogy of transit”—one conceived of as a short-term endeavor in which schools are a pre-resettlement educational experience that, at times, becomes permanent.

Estella Carpi is a postdoctoral research associate at University College London and Humanitarian Affairs Adviser at Save the Children UK. Holding a PhD in social anthropology from the University of Sydney, she is primarily concerned with social responses to conflict and to crisis management.

Categories: Jordan, Middle East, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Jordanian thirst of revenge on terror might curb freedom of expression

(The German version was originally published in WOZ Die Wochenzeitung)

Amman (JORDAN), Februay 9, 2015- The media frenzy that followed the broadcasting of the brutal execution of the Jordanian pilot Muaz al-Kasasbeh at the hands of the Islamic State (IS) suggested a simplified equation between public outrage and widespread support for the kingdom’s involvement in the war in Syria and Iraq. At the moment, the Hashemite monarchy reaps the fruits of a clannish thirst of revenge over the soldier’s death; but once the smoke of ‘celebrations’ will fade away, the ruling elite will have to cope with the internal opposition to the NATO campaign. On the background of the war trumpets, dissidents and journalists warn against a military court whose extensive powers are derived from the Anti-Terror law.

Officially, the Jordanian government seems to have unified the masses behind its war cry.

“Unity has been reached between the official position on the ‘war on terror’ and the people’s views,” Ashraf al-Khasawna, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson, told WOZ in a phone interview. Khasawna spoke of “a state of national awareness”, while stressing the spontaneous nature of the recent anti-terror demonstrations.

Nevertheless, until the Kasasbeh affair, popular opposition to the Jordanian participation in the NATO coalition was noticeably widespread, as the US is perceived to lead the campaign for its own interests and there are concerns about a jihadist backlash in Jordan. The major opposition force, the Muslim Brotherhood, which holds no seats in the Parliament as a result of its boycott of the last elections, views the intervention as part of the US imperialist schemes. Before the execution of the pilot, hundreds took the streets of his hometown al-Karak, calling on the Government to quit the coalition.

“The Government has been in crisis since Kasasbeh got kidnapped and most people opposed the Jordanian involvement in the NATO strikes, but the video changed the equation,” said Tamer Khorma, the Palestinian-Jordanian deputy editor-in-chief of the news website Jo24, smoking a cigarette at the table of Jadl, an association named after dialectical anarchism. Jo24 is a recently-established independent voice among Jordanian opposition media.

“The State resorted to the tribal narrative of revenge…This is how it earned temporary support for its war [on IS],” continued Khorma.

On a military level, the Jordanian army escalated its offensive against IS: on February 8, it boasted about the destruction of 20% of the organization’s fighting capabilities since the beginning of the strikes. In the near future, the region might witness the formation of a Jordanian-trained Iraqi Sunni armed corps, that is the long-debated déjà vu of the Awakening Councils (Sahawat) set up by the Americans in Iraq to counter al-Qaeda

“There are talks about setting up a National Guard (al-Haras al-Watani) tied to the Iraqi army in order to fight IS and cause defections within its ranks,” Ibrahim Gharaibeh, a researcher at Jordan’s Center for Strategic Studies, told WOZ in a phone interview, “it will be something similar to the Sahawat, though enjoying more recognition.”

According to Gharaibeh, the Jordanian army might participate in the National Guard’s training, while its elite troops might carry out special operations in Iraq

The Jordanian FM’s spokesperson Ashraf al-Khasawna declined to comment on “military issues” such as the creation of the National Guard.

On the inner front, in Khasawna’s words, Jordan vows to fight terrorism “regardless of its source”. However, the Hashemite kingdom and its allies might venture to capitalizing on the existing drifts between some jihadist organizations.

“It is absolutely likely that the Government will start differentiating between al-Qaeda and IS to the extent of facilitating the former against the latter: look at the space given on media to Qaeda figures like al-Maqdisi and Abu Qatada,” researcher Gharaibeh told WOZ. Both Abu Mohammad al-Maqdisi and Abu Qatada al-Filistini have been critical of the Islamic State.

“But the Government should beware of the ideological threat posed by al-Qaeda, since it might attract the Jordanian youth and turn them into radicals without resorting to violence,” warned Gharaibeh.

Political dissidents and journalists are predictably more worried about the war on terror’s repercussions on freedom of expression rather than on internal stability.

“The Kasasbeh affair has already affected freedom of expression: Hashim al-Khalidi and Sayfuddin al-Abidat, two journalists from the pro-government news website Saraya [N/A: one of the major news websites in Jordan], have been arrested 10 days ago, after they misquoted the lawyer Musa al-Abdellati saying that the Iraqi prisoner Sajida al-Rishawi [N/A: who was supposed to be swapped with Kasasbeh] had returned to Iraq following her release,” noted the deputy editor-in-chief Tamer Khorma. He also noted that the website has been blocked inside Jordan, following the decision of the State Security Court (SSC). The same military court has issued the arrest order against the two journalists.

According to the Anti-Terror Law, the SSC is charged with prosecuting terror suspects, including people accused of “disturbing [Jordan’s] relations with a foreign state”, “sowing discord” and “disrupting public order”. On the grounds of the clause on foreign relations- which was part of art.118 of the penal code prior to the amendment of the Anti-Terror Law in 2014- politicians and journalists keep being arrested for their invectives against foreign rulers. This is the case of the Muslim Brotherhood’s deputy leader Zaki Bani Arshid, currently detained for having attacked the UAE’s foreign policies. It has also been the case of Nidhal al-Fara’neh and and Amjad Mu’ala, the publisher and the editor-in-chief of the Jafra News website, who were detained for mocking a Qatari prince in 2013. In legal terms, they are all considered terrorists.

The Jordanian opposition blames this legal text for restricting freedom of expression, while insisting on the right of civilians to be prosecuted by civil courts.

“The Anti-Terror Law took many of its texts from the penal code, while transferring the jurisdiction of ordinary courts to the SSC, which is a military tribunal not recognized by the international community,” Mohammad Harasis, a seasoned activist known for leading anti-Government demonstrations in Amman’s poor neighborhood of Tafayla, told WOZ. The UN Human Rights Committee has indeed called for the abolition of the State Security Court. Mr. Harasis also noted that the Anti-Terror Law violates freedom of expression, as enshrined in art.15 of the Constitution.

“In 2011, the jurisdiction of the SSC has been restricted to drug trafficking, high treason, [N/A: espionage] and terrorism, but since there is no world consensus on the definition of terrorism, the opposition forces constantly fear being targeted as terrorists,” Abla Abu Alba, the first secretary of the leftist Jordanian Democratic People’s Party, told WOZ. At the peak of the anti-government mobilization in Jordan (2011-12), protesters were regularly tried in front of the SSC.

On the other side, the institutions strike back defending the SSC as the fastest route to preserve internal stability.

“The SCC considers only specific cases related to State security,” affirmed Hussein al-Majali, the Jordanian Minister of Interior Affairs, “It is efficient and quick, (…) whereas the juridical system is wide and it deals with all possible cases.”

The Hashemite regime is waging its war on terror by empowering military courts and bolstering military efforts abroad, but this will not be enough to win an unconditional support for the equation between terrorists, journalists and dissidents, especially when the Kasasbeh affair will cease to ignite emotions.

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UAE strives to leave imprint on humanitarian aid in Syrian refugee crisis

[A heavily edited (i.e. censored) version of this article was published in the Emirati newspaper The National under a different title (“UAE camp cares for the most vulnerable among Syrian refugees”). The first text below is what I originally wrote, the second is the one appeared in The National].

(Zaatari- Mrajeeb al-Fuhud, JORDAN) Jordan hosts a registered population of 622.106 Syrian refugees, only 16% of them, those who cannot afford paying the rent, live in the three camps of Zaatari, Azraq and Mrajeeb al-Fuhud.

There is a blatant difference between the services provided in the giant UN-run Zaatari camp, which officially hosts around 84.000 refugees and the small efficient Emirates Red Crescent (ERC)’s Mrajeeb al-Fuhud camp, which is home to almost 5.000 refugees: in Zaatari residents are struggling to cover their daily expenses and children drop out overcrowded classes, whereas Mrajeeb delivers high-standard services in all fields.

Some humanitarian workers have already questioned the choice of setting up an A-level camp serving such a small proportion of refugees, but the ERC staff vow to maintain the same standards by focusing on a limited number of vulnerable beneficiaries. While the closely monitored residents can hardly find anything to complain about, the Mrajeeb al-Fuhud camp is still bound to remain a drop in the ocean in a country overwhelmed by the refugee influx such as Jordan.

As the Syrian war precipitated into a deadlock with no solution in sight, Zaatari has evolved into a proper settlement with a thriving souq, similarly to the Palestinian camps of the region, though in a no-man’s land in the middle of the Jordanian desert. In such dire conditions, most Syrians keep living up to their own right to return.

“We still hope to go back to Syria,” Lina (33) from Eastern Ghouta (Damascus) told The National, hiding her face covered by tears, “we don’t want our kids to grow up here.”

Lina has repeatedly tried to register her two children in one of the threeschools of the camp, but every time she was told that they had already reached the maximum number of enrolments. It has been two years since they attended the last class.

According to Mahmud Sadaqa (48), a Palestinian Jordanian volunteer, parents are often not supportive enough when it comes to education.

“Ignorance affects negatively education, parents are psychologically unstable, they keep thinking that they will go back to Syria tomorrow,” said Sadaqa.

Nonetheless, some families still encourage their children to pursue their studies and hold on to their dreams.

“I want to become a lawyer to defend the oppressed people,”Ghufran (12) toldThe National,“(…) we’re 60 students in my class… at first I stopped going to school, but then my mother convinced me to go back.”

Food and medicines are available, but all families struggle to meet ends without any source of income, particularly those where the father went missing.
“My husband has been in jail for one year in Syria, (…) the [ World Food Program] vouchers [N/A 20D (103 AED) each month per family member ] are not enough to buy clothes for my five kids,”  said Yusra Yusuf al-Masri (38) from Daraa, sitting on a mattress in front of her container, which was too small to host us.

Her desperate situation would actually comply with the entry conditions of the Emirati camp, which focuses on women, children, big families, orphans, disabled and elderly people, while denying access to single men.

The National visited Mrajeeb al-Fuhud shortly after Zaatari, escorted by a member in a leather jacket of the Jordanian security forces and the ERC staff, who took us on a ‘cruise’ of the camp on a golf cart.

By arguing these measures were taken to preserve our safety, the security agent took notes of the names of the interviewees, departing from us only upon request. However, the refugees denied the existence of any restriction on freedom of speech.

Differently from Zaatari, up to two family members have the right to be employed in the camp, depending on the size of the family.

“I used to be a muezzin before, so they promised me a job as muezzin also here in the camp,” Shafiq Abdul-Bari Mohsen (65) told The National, “at least I can send money back home, since I have another wife with twelve kids in Syria.”

Everything is methodically organized in sectors in the camp. There are around 30 students per class and even the children look incredibly disciplined.

“Children politely approached the ERC staff, as if they had been taught to do so, whereas in Zaatari they did not hesitate to play with us straight away,” noted Estella Carpi, a University of Sydney doctoral researcher in anthropology, who was conducting field work in Mrajeeb al-Fuhud.

That said, the residents praise loudly the meticulous administration of the Emirati camp in comparison with Zaatari.

“In Zaatari there were always tensions due to the lack of any sort of regulation,” Hussein al-Sari (40) from Eastern Ghouta toldThe National.

In Mrajeeb al-Fuhud there are no tents, only containers. Residents enjoy 24/7 hot water and a selected menu.

“The wishes of the refugees come first: the menu is changed according to their preferences,” Omar al-Swaidi, a member of the ERC administration, toldThe National.

On the other hand, the ERC staff do not eat with the refugees, they have a separate canteen, where they are reminded of their high living standards in the Emirates.

“Listen…we’re used to luxury in the Gulf, I spend 24 hours per day here in the camp, but I need to relax while I’m not working and I am not used to eating bamia [N/A:ladies’ fingers] like Syrians do,” said ERC member Said Shami with a peaceful smile.

As mentioned, some humanitarian workers have been critical of the amount of resources spent on such a small scale project, but the ERC personnel defended their commitment to support a limited number of vulnerable categories.

“Our goal is to host 10.000 people: rather than expanding the number of refugees, we prefer to focus on the weakest ones,” ERC member Said Shami toldThe National. It is worth noting that upon the inauguration of the camp in April 2013, the announced figure was 25.000.

Whether Mrajeeb al-Fuhud will host 10.000 or 25.000 people, similar figures will not relieve Jordan from the burden of the refugee influx. Asked if the UAE should accept part of the refugees back home, the ERC workers show reluctance to this issue as well as the Western governments.

“If we accept to set up camps in the Emirates, Syrians would escape and cause troubles in our country just like they are doing here in Jordan,” ERC’s Said Shami told The National.

Notwithstanding the UAE undeniable humanitarian efforts, Syria’s poorest neighboring countries are left alone paying the highest price of destabilization.


UAE camp cares for the most vulnerable among Syrian refugees

Zaatari and Mrajeeb Al Fuhud, JORDAN // There are more than 622,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, but only the 16 per cent who cannot afford accommodation elsewhere live in the Zaatari, Azraq and Mrajeeb Al Fuhud camps.

During a recent visit, it was clear that there is a discernible difference in the support available at the giant United Nations-run Zaatari camp, home to about 84,000 refugees in Mafraq province, and the smaller Emirates Red Crescent (ERC) camp, Mrajeeb Al Fuhud, in Zarqa, which has about 5,000.

At Zaatari residents struggle to meet their daily needs and school rooms are often overcrowded.

The ERC camp, on the other hand, delivers high-standard services in all areas. It was set up in April 2013 at a cost of Dh37 million to help ease overcrowding at the Zaatari camp. The ERC opted for a small-scale camp, as it wanted to help those most in need, such as orphans, women, children, disabled people and big families. Single men are not accommodated at the site.

While some humanitarian workers question the decision to set up an A-grade camp that serves a small quota of refugees, ERC staff say they are only able to maintain standards by focusing on a limited number of the most vulnerable refugees.

As the Syrian conflict continues, Zaatari has evolved into a mini-city with a thriving souq, similar to Palestinian camps elsewhere in the region.

“We still hope to go back to Syria,” said Lina, 33, from Damascus. She hid her face and cried as she spoke. “We don’t want our kids to grow up here.”

Lina has repeatedly tried to register her two children in one of the three schools at Zaatari. However, classes are full. It has been two years since her children last attended school.

Despite the fact that the schools are full, there remain parents who are not sufficiently supportive of education for their children, said Mahmud Sadaqa, 48, a Palestinian-Jordanian volunteer at the camp.

“They keep thinking that they will go back to Syria tomorrow,” Mr Sadaqa said.

Nonetheless, some families encourage their children to pursue their studies and their dreams.

“I want to become a lawyer to defend the oppressed,” said Ghufran, a 12-year-old girl. There are 60 pupils in her class, and difficulties at the camp forced her to stop attending at one point. Her mother, however, convinced her to return.

Food and medicine are available, but families struggle to make ends meet without a steady income, particularly those where the father is absent.

“My husband has been in jail for one year in Syria,” said Yusra Yusuf Al Masri, 38, from Deraa. She receives World Food Programme vouchers worth about Dh100 each month for each member of her family, but it is “not enough to buy clothes for my five kids”.

The National was able to visit Mrajeeb Al Fuhud shortly after Zaatari, escorted by a Jordanian security forces member and ERC staff.

In the Emirati camp, up to two family members have the right to work on site, depending on family size, and school class fit between 25 and 30.

“I used to be a muezzin, so they promised me the same job here in the camp,” said Shafiq Abdul-Bari Mohsen. “I can send money home since I have another wife with 12 kids in Syria.”

Residents of Mrajeeb Al Fuhud praised the administration of the camp. “In Zaatari, there were always tensions due to the lack of any sort of regulation,” said Hussein Al Sari, 40, from Eastern Ghouta. There are no tents in Mrajeeb Al Fuhud, only trailers. Residents have access to hot water around the clock, and have food options.

“The wishes of the refugees come first,” said Omar Al Swaidi, a member of the ERC administration. “The menu is changed according to their preferences.”

Fellow ERC member Said Shami said: “Our goal is to host 10,000 people. Rather than expanding the number of refugees, we prefer to focus on the weakest.”

Categories: Arab Gulf, Jordan, Syria, UAE | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The dire conditions of Syrian refugees in Wadi Khaled (Lebanon)

Originally published on The Majalla after my first trip to that remote North-Eastern strip of land called Wadi Khaled in Lebanon…

Forgotten Guests of Lebanon

According to the last UNHCR report on June 28th, there are almost 30,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, but only 24,000 are registered as such and receive assistance.
Syrians_ref in Lebanon

According to the last UNHCR report on June 28th, there are almost 30,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, but only 24,000 are registered as such and receive assistance. The Syrian refugees and some Lebanese humanitarian organizations supporting them claim 10,000 of them are concentrated in Wadi Khaled, a narrow North-Eastern valley slipping into the ravaged Syrian province of Homs.

Wadi Khaled is populated by poor peasants, who were severely hit by the Syrian uprising, as they used to rely on trade with Syrian neighboring villages. Power supplies are dramatically limited to two hours per day, thus curtailing also the availability of drinkable water pulled from electric wells. “Locals are even poorer than us!” cries out 58 year old Sabaah, a radiant grandmother from the Syrian village of Talkalakh. She is taking care of her three little nephews and paying $100 rent for a desolate two-room flat. “I recently underwent open-heart surgery and I need to pay $100 for the required medicine,” complains Sabaah, “we used to rely on contacts across the Syrian border to receive it, but the intensified clashes made this impossible.” In Wadi Khaled there are pharmacies and four clinics, but the closest hospital is in Tripoli, a trip which could take up to two hours for dirt roads and military checkpoints.

50 year old Ali Hazzuri is a portly butcher from Talkalakh, who pays $150 to live in a stone cattle shed with his family. Guiding me to another room to drink some tea, Ali wears a sardonic smile as he points at the toilet’s sewage flooding their garden. His wife Najda and his friend Ahmad, a taxi driver from Baba ‘Amro (Homs), lament the unbearable Lebanese cost of living: “Our expenses amount to nearly $300 per month, in this country we pay 2000 LBP ($1.5) for a bread loaf, which cost us 500 LBP ($0.3) before the revolution in Syria!”.

The most desperate case I encountered was that of 40 year old Hassan Hussein Bayut, a black-bearded tattooed man from Baba ‘Amro, who lives in a tumbledown overheated garage with his wife Nuhad and their five children. Despite being unemployed, he has to pay 100.000 LBP ($75) per month for his “accommodation” and hasn’t been able to pay the rent for the last five months. His Lebanese landlord wants to turn the garage into a car wash and threatens to throw his belongings in the streets. “Where do I get the money from? I have to pay $100 in medicines and milk for my sons every week,” explains Hassan in a quiet tone, “and I didn’t receive the UNHCR monthly box of food supplies for four months.”

Hassan’s house in Bab ‘Amro was burned to the ground and he lost trace of his brother in Syria six months ago. Like all other Syrians, Hassan is stuck in Wadi Khaled, considered a “guest (Dayf)” by the pro-Syrian Lebanese Government, rather than a refugee (laji). The Lebanese army is deployed around the valley and Syrians risk being deported to their country if caught at a checkpoint. “The Lebanese troops are monitoring us,” says Mohammad from Talkalakh, “and if the Syrian army breaks in to kill us, they wouldn’t intervene.”

Categories: Jordan, Lebanon, Syria | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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