Abbotsford News editor Andrew Holota is reporting on the Syrian refugee crisis in Jordan and Lebanon this week, with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB), one of the nation’s largest non-governmental aid organizations. It has been funding refugee relief in Jordan and Lebanon since the summer. CFGB is a partnership of 15 churches and church agencies, partnering with a number of NGOs in Jordan and Lebanon, assisting them with funding to deliver aid.
Abbotsford is an important donor community for CFGB, which receives 4-1 Canadian government funding and partners with other NGOs such as World Renew in Canada and around the world to deliver food aid.
“One day they were astonished when they saw the soldiers coming, and they asked for all the men to come out on the street … and they asked for the mothers to come and see what they are doing. They put them in a straight line and they shoot them all, in front of their mothers.”
Through an interpreter, Fatina stands in the backyard of a church in Irbid and stoically relates the inexplicable slaughter that, in June 2012, after many months of shelling and nearby fighting, compelled her and her family to make the intensely difficult decision to leave their home near Damascus in Syria and flee to Jordan.
The men in her family were away when the killings took place. They would not tempt fate again.
Fatina’s journey to becoming a refugee began two years ago. She lived with her husband, 27-year-old son and his wife, and two daughters, 21 and 13. Her husband worked in construction and her son made furniture. They were a middle-class family, living comfortable, happy lives.
The Syrian civil war brought a crushing end to that, as bombs and shells from government and rebel forces began tearing apart their community. Several exploded in front of her house, destroying two cars.
“There were so many injuries.”
They were planning her son’s wedding at the time, and they were afraid to keep the date. Yet, eventually they decided to proceed with the occasion nevertheless, more fearful that the couple “may die” before were married.
Two weeks later, as more bombs fell, the family had to flee the Damascus area. Waiting out the fighting was no longer an option.
They tried to stay at half a dozen different sites, but each time the war drove them on.
They collected some belongings and began a taxi journey to Jordan.
With some previous connections in the country allowing them legal entry, they were not ordered into one of several refugee camps like thousands of others. Friends sheltered them for three months until the displaced family rented an apartment in Irbid.
Syrian refugees are not allowed to work in Jordan, so families such as Fatina use whatever assets they have, along with some meagre under-the-table wages, to pay rent and buy whatever food they can afford. Usually, it is not enough. Meanwhile, rental rates are climbing as landlords exploit an opportunity to charge more for their apartments, which are in ever-increasing demand in areas near the Syrian border.
Fatina’s family applied for aid from international organizations, but waited in vain. Now, the food they receive from World Renew via funding from the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, is all the assistance they get.
(Fatina – at right – stands at the food registry to receive a box.)
Fatina comes to the church to collect one box of food items per month, including rice, cooking oil, pasta, beans, sardines and sardines.
She has organized someone who will take her and the 35-kg box of food back to her apartment. He doesn’t show up, however, and after many requests, Fatina finds a sympathetic cab driver willing to take her home for no charge.
The family will stay in Irbid as long as the civil war continues.
“There is nothing to return to. No furniture, no house, nothing.”
The situation inside Syria is even more grim, where aid is unavailable in many areas. Fatina’s eldest daughter and son stayed behind, and their parents have heard they’ve not seen bread since Ramadan – about four to five months ago.
World Renew, an aid organization run by the Christian Reformed Church, is assisting Fatina’s family, and 1,000 others – about 6,000 people in total – in cities near the Syrian border. Of those, approximately 15 per cent are poverty-stricken Jordanian citizens, to demonstrate that aid is available not only to Syrian refugees, of whom there are now an estimated 1.4 million in Jordan, a nation that numbered 6.5 million before the Syrian civil war.
(A man unloads boxes of food for Syrian refugees.)
For more information on the CFGB visit www.foodgrainsbank.ca
For more information on World Renew visit www.worldrenew.net
More in the series on the Syrian refugee crisis