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Dreaming of Syria – Urban Refugees in Jordan


“Dreaming of Syria” is a reflective portrait of Syrians who have settled in urban areas of Jordan. It offers an insight into the emotional state of refugees who have fled civil war at home only to find a permanent sate of suspense abroad. Boredom, fear, anxiety, depression, worry but also resilience and fortitude is revealed in this portrait driven and contemplative project. It invites the viewer to consider the ramifications of the decision to leave their homes because, with no end of the violence in sight, their flight is a symptom of a potentially permanent population shift reminiscent of the Palestinian crises of ’48 and ’67. This is just the end of the beginning; the expectation is for things to get worse.

The violence in Syria has created the greatest refugee crisis in 20 years. NHCR has identified, 4,800,087 in need of protection as a result of the violence. 656,400 Syrians are currently living in Jordan. It’s largest refugee camp, Zaatari, hosts 80,000 refugees. Today Zaatari is Jordan’s 4th largest city. As staggering as this is, sadly it’s only half the story because the vast majority of displaced Syrians don’t live in refugee camps but in villages, cities and towns.

Countless of civilians have fled the conflict for the relative safety of neighbouring host countries. They’ve taken the risk to leave for an uncertain future abroad. And although they might have escaped the civil war, when they cross the border refugees face a host of new challenges.

Many feel safer crossing the border in the dark, but it remains a risky journey by day or night. The moonlight guides them as they walk among the sand and rocks. They make their way by foot carrying what they can. It’s a dangerous and tiring journey. The refugees arrive exhausted, scared and traumatized. Bundled in their arms are infants swaddled in thick blankets, jars of olives, plastic bags and suitcases jammed with clothing and other odds and ends. With their border ordeal over their life as refugees has only just begun.

The majority settle in urban areas rather than camps such as Zaatari, which is infamous for the tremendous number of Syrians it shelters. And as the number of refugees seeking safety in Jordan increases and the resources to cope with the influx dwindles, many avoid the refugee camps altogether.

The refugee crisis in urban areas is far less visible, but no less serious, than in the camps. Many urban refugees are living in unheated or unfurnished apartments, garages or tents, which are often overcrowded. Many families are facing increased debt as they struggle to pay for soaring rent and rising costs of food, water and other basic essentials. And with no access to income, their problems will only multiply. People are already running out of money for rent and other essentials. Families will be forced to desperate measures to get by. Some families have already adopted negative coping strategies, including illegal low paying work, reducing the number of daily meals, child labour, begging and transactional sex. They are deeply ashamed to do this, but they have no choice.

Many Syrians feel abandoned by the international community because urban refugees are not seen as a priority even though 75% of refugees live outside camps. They feel the suspicion of their new neighbours knowing that their sheer presence puts a strain on Jordanian society at large. The constant worry about financial insecurity and the resentment of their neighbours adds psychological stress to families. Sometimes the daily struggle to get by in Jordan is so overwhelming that they make the heartbreaking decision to return to a war torn Syria. They return to a country where they feared for their life because the bare existence as a refugee was unbearable.