Jordanian Women's Union hold income generating trainigs for Syrian women, for example sewing workshops. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Sofia Zitouni
Jordanian Women's Union hold income generating trainigs for Syrian women, for example sewing workshops. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Sofia Zitouni

Jordanian women help Syrian refugees


Jordanian Women's Union is working hard to help Syrian refugees in Jordan. The organization reports on a critical situation for women – the health conditions are getting poorer and there is an increase of trafficking and prostitution in the refugee camps.

Jordanian Women’s Union (JWU), one of The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s partner organizations, is engaged in several projects to help refugees. In Hattin camp outside Amman, a Palestinian refugee camp, JWU operates a centre since 1993.

As the conflict in Syria has grown worse JWU witness how the number of Syrian refugees entering the country is rising. In Hattin camp the organization has so far registered about 300 families from Syria.

JWU focuses its work on capacity building and awareness raising activities, and representatives from JWU are careful to point out that they are not doing charity work. Activities include income generating training, support hotlines and health care.
– Before, people came here to ask for financial donations. Now they come and ask for awareness sessions, says Ashanan Sarhan, director of the JWU center in Hattin camp.

Visit in Hattin camp

The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation has worked in Jordan since 2005 and is currently supporting eight Jordanian organizations, one of them is JWU. In the beginning of March The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s representatives Sofia Zitouni, Rama Abo Azoum and Johanna Wassholm visited JWU’s centre in Hattin camp. On that day, JWU held a sewing workshop for Syrian women, which is one of the income generating trainings.
– The women can either sell the clothes they make, or use it themselves, Ashanan Sarhan says.

Free medical day

The day that The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation visited JWU was a “free medical day” at the centre.
– As we were there, the JWU mobile ambulance arrived with medicine, and the reception quickly filled up with people, Sofia Zitouni says.

Ashanan Sarhan showed Sofia Zitouni and Johanna Wassholm a pile of medical folders. So far the staff at the centre has registered 200 cases. Ashanan Sarhan described how most Syrian refugees in Hattin camp are currently stuck in a limbo.

The Hattin camp is under the administration of UNWRA, which is responsible for education and health care in the camp. The refugees are not of Palestinian origin and therefore they can’t access health care in the camp. Their application status is still pending with UNHCR and the Jordanian authority can’t assist them.
– This medical free day is a way of assisting them but it is not a long-term solution, the director explained.

Shelter for abused women

The problem with trafficking and prostitution is growing in Jordan. JWU runs the first shelter in Jordan since 1999. It has served and protected hundreds of abused women of different nationalities.
– Right now we have four Syrian women in the shelter. They have all been subject to trafficking, says Nadia Shamroukh, director for JWU.

In Jordan most of the Syrian refugees are residing in the Northern parts of the country: in the cities of Mafraq, Ramtha, Irbid, Amman, Zarqa, Salt and Fuheis, according to JWU. The organization has expanded its work in nine cities around the country where it runs centers that include working with Syrian refugees.

How JWU works with refugees depends on the area. Most Syrian refugees are, for example, located in Zaatari refugee camp. JWU does not have a centre there but instead they work outside the camp in the host communities. The strategy is based on knowledge that many refugees choose not to settle in the camps but rather go into the cities surrounding the camp.

A country under pressure

Jordan is struggling to cope with the influx of refugees. There is a shortage of water in the region and the unemployment is relatively high. According to the Washington Times almost all Syrian families are suffering from diseases and injuries that require immediate treatment and put a strain on the Jordan health services. Also, thousands of Syrians have left refugee camps and moved into the cities where they compete for jobs in a nation with an unemployment rate of 13 per cent. The population of the Zaatari camp in the desert in northern Jordan is bigger than most Jordanian towns and cities.

New category of refugees

JWU has found that the refugees coming from Syria are of a different category than the refugees that came from Iraq some years ago. The differences lay in the level of education and that there are more unaccompanied children coming from Syria.

One big challenge for JWU is that the Syrian refugees have a low level of understanding of their rights.
– It is difficult to discuss the prevalence of sexual violence and consequently targeting the increased level of violence against women. JWU is addressing this by trying to gain trust amongst the refugees and include them in their ongoing activities, says Sofia Zitouni.

Ida Svedlund

The total amount of refugees in Jordan, according to UNCHR, is 303 815. An additional 56 183 Syrians have been in contact with UNHCR to be registered, bringing the total number of Syrians to 360 025. The Government of Jordan estimates that there are 420 000 Syrians in the country.
Source: UNHCR