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Fighting to Provide the Necessities

Devon Jensen

Muna left Syria with her eleven children in September 2014. Coming to Jordan without her husband, Muna knew that their lives would be difficult. But when the conflict took the life of one of her sons, Muna decided that leaving was her family’s only remaining option.

When registered as a refugee in Jordan, Muna settled with her children in eastern Amman. She realized just from searching for a place to stay that  keeping a roof over their heads would be the most difficult challenge of local life. Like the majority of refugee households in Jordan, Muna and her children moved in with another, smaller family. Although crowded, she knew that many others lived with many more. In fact, one in five refugee households in Jordan lives with two or three other families in the same home.1

Muna and her family received additional cash assistance due to her number of school-age children and since Muna was head of the household. Even so, the assistance they received was just under half the monthly rent. 

After three months of late payments, Muna and  her housemates began to receive notes from their landlord threatening eviction. Afraid to lose their apartment and move once more, Muna began to make further sacrifices to meet rent payments.

Two months after she had spent her family’s savings and sold their valuables, she took two of her sons and one daughter out of school. One son began to work. In the middle of 2015, Muna’s eldest daughter married and moved out of the house, somewhat lessening her monthly expenses. 

In addition to rent payments, though, Muna and her family had other regular expenses. On average, rent represents 60% of monthly expenses for refugee households like Muna’s, with the other 40% required to meet necessities like food, utilities, and health care.2 

When she explained that her assistance was not enough to pay for rent alone and that the cash amount was slowly decreasing, her landlord freely completed both repairs. She had insisted that the problems of the shower and stove together made timely rent payment almost impossible, since she had to purchase more bottled water and food that didn’t have to be cooked.

After these repairs, when her housemate’s elder son was hired as a mechanic, Muna re-enrolled one son in school. Today, she wants to re-enroll her remaining two children until they finish graduation exams, but she says this will only bring more challenges for them if they were evicted or had to move. She says that she would feel more comfortable with re-enrollment if her second-eldest daughter were also to marry or if the cash assistance increased.

Another such story is that of Fatima. A mother of four young children from Sudan, she came to Jordan without her husband and soon settled with other Sudanese families in Amman. The one room that they live in with two other female headed families includes young babies and elderly grandparents. 

Fatima cannot legally work in Jordan and must rely on sporadic work to support her family. Since moving to Jordan 4 years ago she has had to move 20 times to more affordable homes and has dealt with harassment from landlords while trying to create a stable living situation for her family. She has moved many times because she has feared for her safety due to this harassment. Although she always expects the worse from her landlords, she has lived in her current place for 4 months.

 In order to survive, Fatima has had to rely solely on donations from NGOs to provide food and educational supplies for her children. Sometimes they are able to also provide money for rent but this varies from month to month. Fatima wishes for nothing more than to be reunited with her family in Sudan but for now, she is just trying to make the best and most stable life for her children.

Muna and Fatima’s story is unfortunately not unique. Many thousands of refugees face these same challenges of life in cities and towns throughout Jordan. As more than 80% of Jordan’s refugees move to communities in search of work, they find high prices, few opportunities, and uncertain housing. Half of refugee households live in poor-quality housing, and two-thirds live below the national poverty line.3 One in five households lacks heating, food storage, latrines, furniture, or electricity, but most often some combination of these features.

Around 15% of the refugee population in Jordan lives within government camps, where conditions continually improve but employment opportunities remain limited. An additional 10,500 refugees occupy informal settlements without running water.4 Nearly 80% of these 10,500 are school-aged children, 3.5% of whom are enrolled in school compared to the 53% national enrollment average. In total, 10% of all refugees in Jordan live in informal shelter. 5

The Jordanian government reports that refugee and migrant communities have tripled pre-crisis housing demands at over 91,300 housing units, highlighting an enormous shortage.6 ARDD applauds ongoing efforts to house refugee families like Muna and Fatimas’s and encourages priority action to secure shelter for vulnerable households, so they may access their right to health through essential services.

 1 “In Search of a Home.” Norwegian Refugee Council. Published 15 June 2015. Accessible at https://www.nrc.no/globalassets/pdf/reports/in-search-of-a-home.pdf

2 “Jordan Home Visits Report 2014.” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Accessible at http://www.unhcr.org/jordan2014urbanreport/media-summary-english.pdf

3 “Jordan Home Visits Report 2014.” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Accessible at http://www.unhcr.org/jordan2014urbanreport/media-summary-english.pdf

4 “Syrian Refugees Staying in Informal Tented Settlements in Jordan.” REACH & UNICEF (Special Report). Published August 2014. Accessible at http://www.reach-initiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/REACH_UNICEF_ITS_MS_AUGUST2014_FINAL.pdf

5 “Jordan Home Visits Report 2014.” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Accessible at http://www.unhcr.org/jordan2014urbanreport/media-summary-english.pdf

6“Jordan Response Plan for the Syria Crisis: 2016-2018.” Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation, Jordan. Accessed at http://static1.squarespace.com/static/522c2552e4b0d3c39ccd1e00/t/56b9abe107eaa0afdcb35f02/1455008783181/JRP%2B2016-2018%2BFull%2B160209.pdf

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