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A Refugee Story

Updated: Feb 11

I’m from Damascus, Syria. When the revolution started, I was working in a Communication company as a lawyer. Fighting near Damascus first began between political factions. Everything grew worse over the next few months. Kidnapping and murder occurred. By the time shooting and explosions drew closer to my home, I became alarmed and realized Damascus was no longer safe. The threat of death was tangible; therefore, I made a plan to leave my country.

I exited Syria on October 4, 2012 until the situation would calm down. I fled with my wife, Hana and one-year-old daughter, Sana to Beirut by taxi. From there, we immediately traveled by airplane to Jordan. It was impossible to travel directly from the airport of Damascus where we wouldn’t be able to leave, especially when they were recruiting all eligible men into the army. We took cash with us to live on for a while in Jordan. We thought the fighting would be over in a few months. After several months in Jordan, we found that life was more expensive than we planned; the money was running out. This led me to begin searching for work. From the beginning, it was difficult to find a job and when I did, I was underpaid and overworked. Refugees were taken advantage of in every way. Eventually, Jordan made a law that any refugee caught working without a permit will be fined and/or deported. We would do anything to get the permit, but it is very complicated and given to only certain sectors.

As more refugees fled to Jordan, the landlords began raising the rents. We could only afford basement apartments and these were very cold and moldy with no sunlight or fresh air. As a result, the severe mold affected our breathing, especially my daughter. To make matters worse, we had no money for medical treatment and medicine. Most side jobs didn’t pay enough to even cover the rent. When I managed to find work, the employers either changed the agreed amount to less or didn’t pay me at all. For example, one month I had a second job to help pay the rent. I took out the trash for a beauty salon every evening. At the end of the month when it was time to get paid, the employer refused to pay me and acted as though he didn’t know who I was.

As a result, I couldn’t cover the rent that month and was forced to move. It was very depressing. We stayed homeless on the streets until someone let us stay with them for a while. I kept searching for a job until I found another one and was able to rent another apartment when I got paid at the end of the month. Then the police started patrolling the area and I had no choice except to leave that job and apartment once again. We were starving and had no food. It was summer and very hot. We were all weak, dizzy and sick. By 2014, we had already moved several times. We met ex-pats from other countries that helped us discover why our utility bills were so high compared to theirs and it was obvious to everyone that the landlords were overcharging us for electricity and water. This happened at almost every place we stayed. Other refugees were being overcharged as well. Some of the landlords had a scam going on to make money off of refugees. At one apartment, we didn’t have water for a week at a time because the water pump kept breaking and the landlord refused to repair it the right way. We couldn’t take showers or do dishes. This happened three different times at one of the apartments.

I started to become more desperate not knowing how to earn money. Then I had an idea to make money by washing cars on the streets. That didn’t work out because it didn’t take long until a police car stopped me. The officers were not happy and were quite rude in asking me for my work permit. They became mean when they heard my Syrian accent. They asked me for my ID then took me to the police station. They left me waiting there for long hours without allowing me to use my cell phone to contact my wife to let her know why I was delayed. After many hours, an official interrogation began with an officer. “You’re a Syrian. Why are you working here in Jordan?” I said, “Sir, I have a family and my situation is not good. I need to feed my family.” Then he shouted at me and said, “All of you are saying the same story”. I said to him, “We are all living the same circumstances! What should we do? Is it better to go steal things to live rather than to work? Even if you asked me to steal, I won’t be able to do it. I don’t know how to do it even.” Then he answered me, “It’s not my problem, but your problem. Why did you come to Jordan then?” I answered him, “I wish I could go back, but I can’t. We came here seeking safety for our families. What would you do if you were in my position?”

After a long talk, the officer asked me to sign a document saying I guarantee and promise that I won’t repeat working at all. They returned my things and let me go. After a few months, they caught me again and did the same thing. I didn’t know what else to do as some people were deported because of the same reason. I lived in fear of deportation. Who would support my family if something happened to me? Still, I had to keep working and take that chance.

In 2014, we moved to a place infested with bugs. It was so bad that my daughter’s skin became very irritated. We had trouble sleeping because of hunger, mold and bugs. It was a repeating nightmare. Finally, the landlord had the place sprayed. They failed to tell us we needed to leave the apartment for several days and we all were severely affected by the poison. We tried to find a clinic because our skin became red and puffy and we couldn’t breath well. The clinics and hospitals refused to treat us. Not one hospital would accept even a little girl without cash on hand even though I promised to pay them back. We couldn’t return to our apartment and didn’t have another place to stay. Once again, we might have to be on the streets for a while.

Finally, we met someone who let us stay in his mother’s apartment and we were all able to fit on the floor. They gave us a carpet and some foam to sleep on. After a few days, I returned to our place to clean and to remove the poison and smell. Someone gave us soap and it took all night to wash everything in the apartment, including the walls. Many times we were homeless, sick and hungry. In our country, we would never treat people like this. Our only fault is that we escaped from war and death because we wanted to save our lives. In 2015, it was winter and another apartment we were in had a water leak from above that we didn’t notice until we found our clothes and blankets stored in the wardrobe were soaking wet and moldy. We informed the family in the apartment upstairs and their reply was that it’s not their problem. If we wanted it to stop, we would have to pay for them to fix it. We had to wash everything but unfortunately many of our items were already ruined. We were forced to move again, this time in the cold of winter. It became a pattern to live with fatigue and despair.

We have no hope to stay in Jordan. The war in Syria continues which means there’s no hope to return to our beloved country. We lack medical and dental care. We have two more children born in Jordan and need even more help. When we’ve gone to the UNHCR and asked them for help, we have to wait for long hours and then we are told they can’t help us and that we have to wait for the immigration to choose our file for resettlement. We don’t get any funds from them like other families. Nobody can understand their system of why they give to some and not to others.

After a few years in Jordan, I met foreigners who began helping us with rent and food. Recently I was informed about asylum immigration and asked to tell my story. I hope through my story others understand more of our plight and help us escape this frozen existence. I hope someday to have a career again. I hope that my children can attend school and have a future. Unfortunately, it is impossible for this to happen with the current conditions in Jordan.

- Anonymous Refugee*


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