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For Syrian, Iraqi Refugees, Catholic Agencies Meet Wide Range of Needs

Syrian refugee children walk with their grandmother at Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, on 4 May. Fleeing conflict and violence refugees from Syria and Iraq praise the Catholic humanitarian agencies helping them cope with trauma while starting a new life in their adopted safe haven of Jordan. (photo: CNS/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters) 

10 May 2014 – By Dale Gavlak

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) — Fleeing conflict and violence back home, refugees from Syria and Iraq praised the Catholic humanitarian agencies helping them to cope with their trauma while starting a new life in their adopted safe haven of Jordan.

“We’ve come out of a nightmarish and desperate time. We’re trying to regain some semblance of normalcy in life,” said Um Ahmed, a Syrian refugee woman attending a life skills class run by the Jesuit Refugee Service in the Jordanian capital.

The Roman Catholic Bishops’ School perched on one of Amman’s high hills buzzes with classes of refugees learning English, Arabic literacy, computer skills, handicrafts and cooking conducted after regular classes conclude.

Living became impossible in Ahmed’s northern Syrian city of Aleppo because of constant fighting and government bombardments. “My family was also extremely afraid because people were being detained and had disappeared. We feared for our lives,” she told Catholic News Service on 5 May.

“Leaving everything, our work and possessions behind, we had to start from scratch again here,” Ahmed said.

Ahmed is among than 600 refugees who are slowly getting back on their feet through JRS-sponsored programs that include home visits, psychosocial support, educational opportunities for children and adults and college degree preparation. The organization also provides food parcels and hygiene kits.

“We serve not only Syrian and Iraqi refugees, but also Somali and Sudanese refugees, who have been marginalized and forgotten here in Jordan by other NGOs,” explained Tamim Arif, the agency’s acting country director.

Arif said the majority of the students are women.

“This is really good because in Arab culture women rarely leave the house. Our classes provide a safe place for them to share their experiences and to learn,” he said.

An Iraqi woman, Um Mustafa, said she and her family fled Iraq more than a year ago after receiving threats and her brother-in-law was killed in Baghdad.

“By going to the JRS school, I’m not only learning new skills. I have the chance to meet other women and develop friendships,” Mustafa said.

“It’s difficult to leave your homeland. You feel isolated in a foreign place, but here I don’t feel alone anymore,” she added. “The people are good and kind. I feel like I have a second family.”

Jordan has become the main refuge for people fleeing conflicts in the Middle East. About half of its nearly 7 million inhabitants are Palestinians who fled several wars with Israel and their descendants.

Today, 300,000 Iraqi refugees and more than 600,000 Syrian refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees are straining Jordan’s meager financial resources and its educational, health and energy sectors. The government has reported that more than 1 million Syrians are sheltering in Jordan and their numbers are growing daily.

Jordan also hosts the world’s second largest U.N. refugee camp at Zaatari. The U.N. has opened another facility that could eventually house up to 130,000 Syrian refugees as the violent three-year-old conflict shows no signs of ending.

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Tags: Refugees Syrian Civil War Jordan Relief Iraqi