Camp Fires | Return To The Baqa'a Camp

السبت 03 تشرين الثاني 2007

Written By: Naseem Tarawnah

A few weeks after the Ramadan visit to the Baqaa (Bag3a) Palestinian refugee camp, the Action Committee returned to help out a family in need. The father is of Syrian decent and operates a ka3k trolley, which essentially means he walks around all day making cheap sandwiches. His wife is Jordanian and is deaf. Together they have nine children, two of whom are young twins. One of their baby girls had been playing with matches that eventually started an electrical fire, which spread fairly quickly through the home. Luckily, no one was hurt but all their belongings were burnt to a crisp. The house is in “okay” shape, considering that pretty much all housing structures in the country are made of concrete blocks and cement. However, since this is the Bag3a and the makeshift “roofs” are made entirely of aluminum sheets, the lumber that holds them is now crumbling from the fire. This is to say nothing of the shattered windows and twisted doors.

“Thank God for the fire department,” the father told me, “it took them 5 minutes to get here and put it out before it did any more damage.” Fortunately the family lives within the souk (market) area as opposed to being right in the middle of the camp along with the majority of the homes that line the narrow rubble streets. However the uncle said it didn’t matter where they lived: “you could be anywhere in the camp and the fire department will be there in 5 minutes. They might be the only good thing in the whole camp”. Ironically, on our way there, we heard there was a second house that had caught fire in the camp recently but unfortunately we couldn’t find it. Apparently, fires are fairly common here and only begin to increase as the winter season takes hold; a time of the year when cheap gas heaters can do a lot of tragic damage.

What was interesting about this case was that the family was technically Syrian, even though they live in a Palestinian refugee camp. This means they don’t get the same services as their Palestinian counterparts, specifically health services. They have to rely on paying pricey doctors cash, whereas Palestinians – who carry Jordanian citizenships and qualify for UN refugee status – receive mainly free services through government and UNRWA clinics. The sad irony however is that the Syrian father has been living in the camp since the early 1980’s, with his father settling in Jordan since the turn of the 20th century.

Upon hearing of the story the Action Committee started an emergancy fundraising campaign on October 28th, to raise some money and gather essential supplies. Within four days the response was incredible. The committee collected everything from mattresses to blankets, pillows, utensils, food, clothes, toys and a whole lot more. There was just too much stuff to distribute to just one family, so a lot was left over for another visit and another family. We actually had to use a truck instead of the pickups.

From personal experience I would have to say this was one of the most touching stories I’ve heard. But seeing it, hearing the story from the mouths of the family, touching the black burnt walls of their rooms, that is a whole other experience all together. I suppose, in a way, a house on fire in the bag3a camp is a metaphor for the terrible conditions of this camp and all refugee camps in general. Everyone seems to be hanging on to the hope of one day returning to a homeland they’ve never seen. It’s a sentiment that’s reflected in the eyes of everyone from the refugees to the activists and diplomats who see integration as the final straw breaking the camel’s back when it comes to fighting for the right of return. It’s an overwhelming situation, to say the least.

Indeed, the response from the (mostly online) community was just as overwhelming. Sara got plenty of emails and calls from various people who heard about the story through the Facebook group (which is really growing) and the Jordanian blogs that brought it to the attention of their readers. It was nice to hear Sara name some familiar names from the blogosphere of the people who contacted her, and meet some interesting people at the Thursday collection point. A lot of people wanted to join us on the trip to the camp but unfortunately space was limited. Nevertheless, it was interesting to note the many people who wanted to know how they could participate more actively – beyond just donations – and how many of those people were in their 20’s.

That being said, a big thank you to everyone who helped with the contributions.

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