Aid project helps Syria refugees feel at home in Jordan

Syrian refugee

:: Struggling to make ends meet, Syrian refugee Umm Iman and her family spent years moving from house to house in Jordan. Now, they have finally found a place to settle.

The Norwegian Refugee Council, an NGO, is paying Jordanian landowners grants to help them build or renovate housing.

In exchange, the landlords offer free housing to Syrian refugees for a specified period.

“We used to have to move house every month for various reasons,” said Umm Iman.

In contrast to the high rents and dilapidated buildings of previous lodgings, Umm Iman, 29, said her new home is “clean, spacious and comfortable.”

She shares the apartment in the northern city of Irbid, near the Syrian border, with her husband and their four daughters, her sister-in-law and her children.

It is one of 6,000 homes made available to Syrian refugees in Jordan through the NRC program.

Around 25,000 refugees are accommodated for free or very low rents, depending on their level of need.

Umm Iman’s family fled Syria in 2012, finding shelter in a refugee camp in northern Jordan before leaving to settle elsewhere at their own expense.

“Our situation was really bad,” her husband Mohammed Ghazal said.

The places they could afford “were unhealthy, cramped and some were falling down. Once, the roof of one of the houses collapsed on us,” he said.

“We were faced with a hard choice: either return to the refugee camp or return to Syria. This project saved us.”

The UN says it has registered more than 650,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, but the kingdom says more than 1.4 million Syrians are on its territory.

More than 80 percent of them are living under the poverty line, according to UN figures.

Located in a residential neighborhood surrounded by trees, the apartment opens onto a main street and is part of a building with eight apartments, each with two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen and a toilet.

The family is living in it for free on a contract that expires in March 2018.

The apartment is owned by Mustafa Shatwani, a retired Jordanian engineer who said the NRC program benefits both parties.

The NGO has covered 25 percent of the costs of the apartments he owns, where he now hosts several Syrian families.

“The costs of construction are high in Jordan,” he said. “If I don’t rent out my place, I can’t get the money back.”

Rodrigo Melo, who runs the program for the NRC, said it is allocated between $3 million and $5 million every year and benefits the local economy.

Launched in 2014, it now has 10,000 Syrians on its waiting list.

Families assessed as “vulnerable” pay no rent, while others pay a small sum.

NRC, backed by the UN and international donors, also offers work opportunities to refugees, often in the construction sector.

It “encourages human interaction and preserves the dignity of the Syrians,” he said.

Ghazal’s niece Aya, seven, said she was “very happy” in the new home.

“It’s bigger and nicer than the other place we lived, and I have lots of Syrian friends here,” she said.

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