What is life really like for Syrian refugees?

Badriya with two of her children

What started five years ago as peaceful protests inspired by the Arab Spring has turned into the world's largest refugee crisis. But what is life really like for ordinary Syrian people who have had to flee their homeland in search of safety?

Faiza, a Syrian refugee in Jordan

37-year-old Faiza (above) lives with her mother, husband and three children in Amman, Jordan.

“Before we came here we were moving all around within Syria – sleeping in schools and mosques and moving to survive, but things just became too bad. People even began fighting over food and a place to sleep.

“When I first got to Jordan I was crying and I didn’t know what to do to survive, but because I’m an educated woman I thought I should be able to deal with this and keep my family alive. My husband used to work back in Syria but can’t any more after he was injured in the conflict.

Now I work to survive as a cleaner in my neighbours’ houses. I am now the one responsible for everything.

“Sometimes I get so desperate that I think about sending my children back to Syria, even though I know it’s not safe. All I think, day and night, is about money and how to get it, how to pay rent, buy food and keep my children alive.” 

Faiza received emergency cash assistance from CARE.

Two Syrian refugee children

9-year-old Aya and 11-year-old Abdulrahman (above) are from Homs in Syria and now live with their parents and two other siblings in Amman, Jordan.

“There was a bomb that went off next to our house and then we had to leave. Our parents told us it was because of all the bombs that we were leaving. We moved to lots of different places in Syria before coming to Jordan but we were always so scared of getting hurt.

We miss our home the most – it was so beautiful.

“But we are happy here too – the best thing about living here is school and studying and the new friends we have made!”

Amjad and his friend Omar

10-year-old Syrian refugee Amjad (above left) with his friend, 8-year-old Omar (above right), who is from Jordan.

“I came to one of the ‘life story sessions’ at the [CARE-run urban refugee] centre and it was very interesting. I talked about my experiences and how I left Syria and what I liked about home. It made me feel better and helped me to remember home better.

After three and a half years in Jordan I am starting to forget Syria.

“I forgot the name of the school I used to be in and the name of the street where I lived. When they asked me it, it took me 15 minutes to remember, but I’m so happy I did remember the details. I have made many friends here too, including Omar, who is my best friend.”

Kareman, a Syrian refugee, holding a notebook

16-year-old Kareman (above) has been in Jordan for three and a half years as a refugee.

“When I first came to Jordan I was very depressed – having to leave my home, seeing everything destroyed and then coming here with no money and having to start from the beginning. Coming to the sessions at the CARE centre helped me overcome this.

I learned not to give up as this is my life and I need to be responsible for it.

“I kept this notebook at the time as part of the session and wrote down what happened to me which was very helpful. I went through the saddest moments of my life and realised I had overcome them all, which means I can overcome anything in the future. We also went over our happiest moments and I realised life is also full of happy moments, not just sad.”

Heba, a CARE staff member at Azraq camp, Jordan

Heba (above) is a case management officer with CARE Jordan in Azraq camp.

“I have been working for CARE since September 2014, before that I was volunteering with them in the camp. I just thought it was a great opportunity to share my talents and experience and empower people to help them learn.

One of my jobs is to run the peer support groups, and it is one area where I see people make really big steps.

“One man told me how he had been so depressed and was completely alone in the camp but through the group and activities he made relationships with others and he started to feel relaxed and comfortable again and he wasn’t so haunted by his memories. It is things like this that make my job so worthwhile.

“It’s especially hard for the Syrian men who are culturally used to working and are now having to sit idle – it really affects their psychology and mood, so organising at least some sort of activities for them to participate in is really important.”

A Syrian refugee boy holding a mobile phone

16-year-old Hussam (above) from Daraa in Syria has been in Azraq camp, Jordan, for one year.

“I taught myself English here in the camp from YouTube and the ‘ideas box’ in the CARE centre. I would come to the centre every day to learn English.

“I was actually in school in Syria doing my English finals when it was bombed, and many of my friends were killed. It was then we decided to leave the country and I decided it was a sign that I was meant to learn English because it happened during my English class.

My dream is to help rebuild my country one day.

“The country is destroyed and we will have to rebuild it and it will need many doctors and engineers and farmers to do it.”

Mohammed, a Syrian refugee boy

14-year-old Mohammed (above) is a Syrian refugee living in Mafraq, north-east Jordan.

“We came to Jordan in 2013 after military people came to our home. They took my father and uncles, and killed other children and old men… even my grandfather was burnt to death.

We were lucky to escape.

“When I first came from Syria to Jordan I went to school, but then I dropped out. I was out of school for a year, but after coming to the CARE centre Peer Support Group and writing a daily diary and sharing things with the group I realised I should go back to school, so I just went back recently and I like it so much better this time.”

Sausa, a young Syrian refugee woman

17-year-old Sausa (above) lives in Mafraq with her parents and five brothers.

“I haven’t been to school in two years, since coming to Jordan. Back in Syria I was planning to continue my studies and I had a dream of becoming a lawyer, but then war came and we came here and that dream crashed.

My whole life has changed since we left Syria, now I stay at home all the time and help my mother around the house.

“I miss everything about Syria, from the roads to the schools… I have five brothers who are very protective and don’t like me to leave the house. Even to go to the CARE centre where I participate in activities, my 13-year-old brother accompanies me there and back, but at least it gives me some small opportunity to get out of the house.”

Rafirka, a Syrian refugee woman

60-year-old Rafirka (above) from Homs in Syria lives in Azraq town, east Jordan.

“My son died in Syria in the war and I’m now raising his four children here in Jordan with my husband, but I am old and my husband is even older than me and we worry who will take care of them in the future.

Right now our biggest problem is finding enough money to look after them, and I worry about getting an education for them.

“I come to the CARE centre to learn new skills like the soap-making course I’m taking right now. I’ve also started to read Arabic for the first time in my life so I can now read street signs and bus destinations.

“With everything that has happened I feel like we are not Syrian any more, too many bad things have happened there and I would rather be Jordanian now.”

Enaam, a Palestinian refugee woman in Jordan

55-year-old Ena’am (above) is a Palestinian refugee who was living in Yarmuk camp inside Syria before she was forced to flee for a second time to Jordan.

“I came from Syria to Jordan because my son was killed in the camp there. He was shot. Some people were marching and protesting and he was just an onlooker and someone shot him.

He was my only son and now he is gone.

“I am all alone here in Jordan and it is so hard. Because I am a Palestinian I also have a lot of problems getting assistance from organisations because I am not Syrian. The CARE centre is one of the few places I can come and at least participate in activities, and I feel like I am with my family. When I come here I feel at home and not so alone.”

Salwa, a Syrian refugee woman

42-year-old Salwa (above) received emergency cash assistance from CARE.

“My 9-year-old daughter Eman came to the CARE centre for disability sessions and disability-friendly activities and she really enjoyed it. She is mentally disabled, and since the last time she came to the centre she has constantly been saying she wants to come back and participate in more activities; so that makes me very happy. She doesn’t go to school so she is at home all the time and this is her one time to socialise and get out.”

Badriya, a Syrian refugee woman

37-year-old Badriya (above) lives with her seven children in Zarqa, central Jordan. She received emergency cash assistance from CARE and has been included in CARE’s vocational training.

“My husband went to Germany ... He went because there is no work here and life conditions are too hard. He was hoping he would be able to work and send money to us, but instead he is in a camp, with too much time to worry and think.

We face stress here and he faces stress there.

“My 15-year-old son Yazan has had to drop out of school and get work in a bakery in town and I am doing some cooking for a neighbour, all to try to make money to pay the rent, but it is not enough. We haven’t paid rent in three months and counting and they cut the electricity off last month because we couldn’t pay.

Imagine – in this whole house we don’t even have US$5 right now.

Ahmed, a Syrian refugee boy

13-year-old Syrian refugee Ahmed (above) is the sole bread winner for his family of six in Jordan.

“I work picking olives in a farm seven days a week for between 3-5 Jordanian dollars (approx. US$ 4-7) a day depending on how many bags I can fill with olives. But I’m having problems at the moment as they haven’t paid me for the last couple of months and every time I ask for the money they tell me tomorrow… or next week...

I haven’t been to school since I left Syria. If I go to school who will provide the house with money?

Ahmed will be going back to school with the help of CARE’s cash-for-education programme which will provide the family with a monthly payment of US$100 so that Ahmed can quit work and go to school.

An elderly Syrian refugee woman

49 year Amira (above, name changed) is from Homs in Syria.

“My family was living under bombs for two years, but then it reached a point where there were killing people in person. They slaughtered 500 people in my neighbourhood with knives – slit their throats and burned all their bodies in a room together, so it was time to leave.

In Syria a neighbour the same age as me was kidnapped and raped by four men. She told them ‘I am like your mother’ but they didn’t listen.

“Because we were walking for so long to reach Jordan my foot was so swollen when we arrived that one doctor here told me I would have to have it amputated, but luckily I found another one who cured it, but I had to lie three months in bed with my foot up and not being able to move at all. Sometimes I wished I was dead instead of lying in that bed, but I am so thankful to the doctor that saved my foot.”

Photos and interviews by Lucy Beck, CARE emergency response communications specialist.

Read more about the Syria crisis and how CARE is helping people affected by the conflict.

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