Escaping Winter: A Syrian Community’s Search for Warmth in the Jordan Valley

January 29, 2014

By Sara Obeidat and Mohammad Hijazi

Ahmad is an 11-year-old Syrian from Hama who arrived to Jordan last year with his extended family in search of safety. The family initially settled in Mafraq, a province in Jordan’s north-eastern desert that hosts the Zaatari Refugee camp in addition to tens of thousands of Syrian refugees outside the camp.

Ahmad’s family lived in UNHCR tents outside of the camp, where their freedom of mobility came at the expense of their ability to directly receive support from the UNHCR should they need it.

So when winter arrived, especially harsh in Mafraq’s desert climate where the average low temperature in January is 2 degrees celsius, the family decided to pick up their tents and move to the northern Jordan Valley. They settled in the area of Kraymeh, where around 500 Syrians currently reside, according to the Ministry of Interior Affairs.

The warm climate of the area, where average winter temperature range between 10 – 22 degrees celius, was a comforting contrast to where they came from, especially for the children, but what Ahmad and his family did not expect was the heavy rainfall in early December that flooded their tents and left most of their belongings ruined.

“We came from the desert to the Jordan Valley because it’s warmer,” Ahmad said. “We did not know it was going to rain.”

Some households lost most of their food supply, and a few tents were completely ruined. “Considering that a UNHCR tent costs around 60 to 70 JD, many of us were in trouble,” said Khaled, a young man whose tent was completely ruined and thus had no choice but to rent an unfinished house of two rooms with no electricity or heating to live in with his entire family.

Those who were lucky enough to have an electric heater bought electricity from their next door neighbors at the price of around JD 10 per month, according to Mahmoud, one of the Syrians who live in the area. His family was not one of those, and they settled for lighting fire wood.

A team from Jordan’s Civil Defence Directorate helped rescue the Syrians trapped by the floods, and then tried to convince them to relocate to a safer area, but the Syrians preferred to stay in Kraymeh. “We are all relatives and we like living here next to each other,” said Khaled. As a result, the Civil Defence team constructed a dam to collect the rain water and prevent future flooding.

“Most of these refugees [in Kraymeh] work as farmers in the area, and the land they live in is rented to them by the locals living in the Jordan Valley,” says Manal Wazani, director of Save the Children in Jordan.

She said that Save the Children, along with other organizations such as the UNHCR and UNICEF have launched initiatives for Syrian refugees that are part of the settlement community in Kraymeh.

“Before the flood occurred, the refugees were receiving assistance,” she said. “However, the floods did raise more attention to the vulnerability of their situation.”