The Invisible Among Us
We see the photos and read the stories of despair and isolation in the news everyday. Back home they were successful tailors, lawyers, bakers, doctors, teachers and homemakers. Now they live next to you and I, their former professions and lives hidden away, tucked in a not so distant memory. UNHCR estimates that there are over 619,000 registered Syrian refugees living in Jordan 85% of which live outside of the camps. The children you see playing in your street, the woman bargaining at the market, the men at your local café, these refugees are your neighbors, your classmates and conversation partners.
Though you may see them through your daily life, one rarely understands their story and how their lives have changed since they arrived in Jordan, a safe haven from the destruction back home. The cash assistance and food vouchers provided by international agencies help but are not enough. This does little to improve daily life; it does not give them the right to work and to thrive as they did back home. Each and every person in this world has something to contribute to society and programs that build upon the existing skills and talents of those living among us need to become a priority. This social capital has the opportunity to make the invisible become visible and build lasting cohesive communities of Syrians and Jordanians.
Local NGO, Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD)-Legal Aid looks to do just that. With experience working with Iraqi, Palestinian, Somali and Syrians, ARDD-Legal Aid knows the importance of harnessing the resilience of urban refugees and creating safe spaces in the community for every person. By using programs that work to empower individuals and increase mutual understanding, refugees become a part of the community. Programs such as “Gift with a Message” brought together Syrians and Jordanian women for an Iftar dinner during Ramadan where they shared recipes and worked together to prepare the meal. Other ARDD-Legal Aid programs work to bring together children, as in the “Voices of the Future” initiative where Syrian and Jordanian children attended summer programs where they learned to express themselves in constructive ways. Programs such as this help to build upon the existing skills of refugees living among us and empower them to become a part of the new country they live in.
Together, as residents of Jordan we have the ability to create a new, even more resilient community. The Syrian urban refugees are not the first phantoms in our society, living among us invisibly. Despite the many waves of refugees in the region and the noticeable humanitarian fatigue, displacement should never become a synonym of suffering in silence. Indeed Jordanian culture and identity is already built on so many layers of regional experiences but it is the way we continuously add to this that makes Jordan, Jordan.