Refugees… in Glamour Magazine? Yes. I crafted a photo essay for the women's publication in Jordan. Because everyone needs to hear the stories of and step up to protect the most vulnerable among us. Please take a moment to read about Shiri, Yasmin, Izzu – and share.Refugees unwelcome. President Trump will ban all people fleeing persecution and violence in seven predominantly Muslim Middle Eastern and African countries from entering the United States for at least the 30 days—possibly up to four months. Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Iran, and Syria, where a vicious civil war still rages. After spending time with Syrian refugees entering Greece by boat, crossing Europe through Macedonia, seeking asylum in Germany, and resettling in the United States over the past year, I went to Jordan and saw a different piece of the refugee experience: camps and informal tent settlements just over the border from Syria. Mothers and daughters, grandfathers and grandsons, families of all ages and makeups have been forced from their homes in search of safety, survival and opportunity. These are a few of their stories…
Shiri looks upon her children with pride, waiting to receive treatment from the IRC mobile clinic.
"They burned my home. I had nothing to stay for." A mother of seven, Shiri had no choice but to leave her city of Daraa, Syria. At that moment in 2013, she had four children between the ages of three and seven. A pregnant Shiri crossed the nearby Jordanian border on foot with only her kids, entered through a registration point, reached the massive Zaatari refugee camp, and then left after a month for an informal tent settlement similar to the one where she now lives in Al-Mafraq alongside 11 families. Her dream is to see Syria as it was before, a place she can only describe as "heaven.” Shiri’s youngest children haven’t even seen her homeland, like little Qais, who fled in utero, and the others who were born on Jordanian soil. She thought the war would end within a couple of months, and although hope is now fading, the 35-year-old refuses to give up on her dream to return to her homeland.
“Inshallah,” she utters with a deep breath and trepidatious smile as she holds her children tighter. “God willing.”
Qais waves from the edge of the tent camp in the only place he knows to be home.
Mulham and his best friend lead a walking tour through their tent settlement.
"We used to laugh, we used to play, we used to go for picnics,” Mulham reminisces about Syria. Before the war broke out, he and his friends couldn’t have imagined a better place to grow up, but things rapidly turned dangerous. He faced a number of direct confrontations with government soldiers, which forced his family out of the city and country. "My family didn’t want the army to kill me or to reach me,” he states with uncanny calmness for a boy his age. The nine-year-old and his extended family fled violence and destruction in Hama, Syria, finally settling in an informal refugee camp outside of Amman. He recalls the journey from Syria to Jordan as very difficult, walking for extended periods with no water and debilitating thirst. But now, Mulham is happy. He lights up in speaking about writing on the board in his tent classroom, talking about Arabic studies, and sharing one of his first English words, "banana." He wants to be a teacher, but in Syria, where he yearns to return. "I wish Syria could become like before.”
Yasmin bounces between the laps of family members, observing keenly and listening intently.
Like many young refugees in camps or informal tent settlements across Jordan and other nations, Yasmin’s only documentation is her first name below a small square photograph at the bottom of a single piece of paper. The sheet is her mother’s official proof of UNHCR asylum seeker status. At four years old, Yasmin is part of what many view as a lost generation in the making—Syrian children forced to flee a violent nation or born outside of its borders during the crisis, unable to remember anything but life in the camps, without access to proper education, sanitation, jobs, shelter, or medical services.
A tapestry-adorned tent is her home, layers upon layers of donated winter clothing her comfort blankets, a 35-family informal community her neighborhood—and she could not be a happier child, surrounded by a loving family and physical safety. Without the burden of war on her shoulders, Yasmin dances freely and toys with gadgets with the mastery of a modern-day toddler.
Izzu, his son, and grandson gather around the heater in the tent where their family lives.
"I never once thought about leaving my country.” But after witnessing a daughter, son, and brothers brutally murdered by government forces and being forced to move 12 times within the city of Hama in search of safety, Izzu fled Syria with his remaining eight children and grandchildren in October 2013. “I just want to feel safe and protect my family, the basic life needs,” he says. He speaks about water, shelter, electricity, foodstuffs, and primary education. Services in the camp are improving, Izzu says, noting access to critical medical care and a free pharmacy through the roving IRC mobile clinic. "To be safe is to be happy,” he says. At the camp in Jordan, he and his family feel safe —and for that, he repeatedly praises God. “Hamdullah.”
Fathers, sons, uncles, and men of all ages sit side by side in a winterized tent.
"We are from Syria. We came here on October 14, 2014.” Nearly every refugee can speak the exact day he or she was forced from Syria, from home, from familiarity, because of war and conflict. Sitting in a circle inside a tent, men—mostly a web of extended family—share medical details with International Rescue Committee community health workers before seeing doctors and nurses during the mobile clinic’s visit to their tent camp outside of Amman, Jordan. Dressed in traditional red-and-white shemaghs, they speak of the fall of their beloved city of Hama and inescapable daily difficulties of life as a refugee. In Syria, they worked with sheep, in animal husbandry and in orchards, but in Jordan, they cannot afford animals, so instead they turn to agriculture and field labor. There is no farming or harvest happening right now, but the men will once again start to work the land upon which they live in April. Although grateful to be in Jordan, this is a temporary way of life while waiting out the war. "We are all waiting patiently to fill Syria with peace.” Then, they can return to the treasured lands, the homes, the lifestyles left behind, but not forgotten.
View this photo essay on Glamour