Syrian Bedouin fear Jordan refugee camps

Syrian Bedouin fear Jordan refugee camps
4 min read
16 December, 2014
Refugees say they would rather return to Syria than be forced into one of the government's camps.
The bedouin move in search of seasonal work [Mohammed al-Fudailat]

"We are Bedouin - we die if we are confined," said 25-year-old Syrian refugee Nasayim. Two months ago she moved with her mother and two sisters to a temporary settlement set up by Syrian refugees on the outskirts of the Jordanian town of Karameh, 70km west of the capital Amman.

Nasayim and her family left Mafraq, in northern Jordan, to spend the winter in Karameh where it is warmer and there are more jobs on local farms. As she cleaned a chicken for lunch, she told al-Araby al-Jadeed that the winter cold of Mafraq's desert was unbearable, and jobs were non-existent.

Where before the war in Syria the Bedouin were nomads by choice, following their livestock and cultivating a few seasonal crops, they are now forced to migrate in search of wage labour to support a hand-to-mouth existence.

Home comforts

Before the war the Bedouin were nomads by choice, but now they move in search of wage labour.

Nasayim is proud of her tent, which she insisted was the best looking and cleanest among the 21 tents in the temporary settlement where about 100 refugees live.

She did not allow us to take photographs inside the tent because she was scared someone might give her the evil eye out of envy. However, she did allow us to take a look inside.

The tent has a sitting room for guests and another for sleeping and cooking. It has a television connected to a satellite dish mounted on one of the tent poles, a washing machine, a sewing machine and a gas cooker.

The young Bedouin woman, much like the rest of the refugees in the temporary settlement, is wary of strangers and careful in her dealings with them when they enter the settlement. The Bedouin fear the authorities, who say they will remove all unplanned Syrian settlements in Jordan and resettle the residents in the five official refugee camps, which now hold 20 percent of the 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Jordan.

Suspicion and fear

Before we spoke to Nasayim she made us swear we had not come to take them back to Zaatari refugee camp. Umm Ahmad, a 32-year-old woman whose tent is at the entrance of the settlement, thought the same thing as we entered their camp.

She asked: "Why do you want to bring us back us back to Zaatari? What did we do? We are living our lives and working, not being a burden on anyone."

She supports her four children with the wages she makes gathering fruit and vegetables in the fields. She makes one Jordanian dinar ($1.40) an hour and works for four to five hours a day. This is a lot of money for her, especially since as she also gets vegetables from her employer for free.

Umm Ahmad's dream is to buy a smartphone so she can send a picture of her new-born daughter Nadine to her husband, who went back home to the countryside around Hama two months ago to visit his mother and has not been able to return since. Umm Ahmad has decided to wait in Jordan because of the ongoing war.

The Bedouin fear the authorities who plan to resettle all Syrians living in unplanned camps in an official refugee camp.

Nouf, a refugee in her fifties said: "If they force us to go back to the refugee camp, I'll go back to Syria. The refugee camp is a prison and us Bedouins die in places like that."

She added, "Let us live in freedom. Why are people dying in Syria? Is it not for freedom?"

The refugees' settlement uses land rented from the owner of their farm employer. Each tent pays 20 dinars ($29) a month in rent and 15 dinars ($21) for water and electricity.

It is unlikely that these refugees will stay in Karameh for long. At the end of winter, they will pack up their tents and go back to Mafraq, because the summers in Mafraq are cooler.

However their plans could be scuppered by the government: Sources in the Jordanian interior ministry say its plan to resettle all refugees in government camps is ready to be implemented.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.