Jordan: Syrian refugees dream of home

12-03-2014 Feature

The Bustana assembly point on the Jordanian/Syrian border receives at least 550 Syrian refugees a day. The stories below give an insight into the world as it looks through their eyes.

In Bustana, Syrian refugees form small communities to try and integrate. CC BY-SA 2.0 / Rasha Ahmed

Over the last three years, the Syrian conflict has brought untold suffering. For hundreds of thousands, leaving Syria is the only option. Many have spent what little money they had left in order to escape.

The journey to safety is often complex. Many refugees had been moving around Syria for years before reaching the temporary shelter of Bustana, just inside Jordan.

The Arabic word bustana means "garden," but this is a remote area, surrounded by desert. No sound of bubbling springs here, just the howling of the wind.

The winter's cold and the summer's heat are written on the faces of children who have spent many days and nights in the desert before reaching Bustana. Here they wait, until they can move on to a refugee camp.

From a distance, you sense the misery of these refugees and the suffering they have endured. But as you approach their tents and the ICRC caravans where they shelter from the harsh weather, you see a different world.

You see children running around, some despite serious injuries. They are playing and sharing stories about their families. You see young women who have lost their husbands, who keep going just for the children. You see men gathered around a rock, pondering on what has happened to them, talking about what they can do to get by.



Stories of pain and hope 


Men, women and children in Bustana talk about their journeys, and about how they see the future.


Scars of the cold nights


Mothers speak out 

Losing all


Men, women and children in Bustana talk about their journeys, and about how they see the future.



Razan and her little brother finally feel safe enough to smile again. ©ICRC/Rasha Ahmed


The journey was long, tiring, and scary for Razan (9) who slipped away secretly from Hama with her mother and her younger brother.

"Almost every day I saw violence, and heard that someone had been killed or kidnapped. I was always thinking about places in my home where I could hide from the sounds I heard in the street," she explains.

 "I couldn't sleep because the noise of bullets made me too scared to sleep, or even to play. My hands were trembling. My mum held my hand to calm me down,  but I didn't feel safe anymore."

Eventually, Razan had to stop going to school. After that, she hardly left her home until she fled. She arrived in Bustana in October 2013, hoping to find a safe place where she can finally sleep and live normally.

"You see these marks on my face? They're from the cold nights I spent in the desert during our trip to Jordan. Will they go away?"  

Despite being cold, hungry and afraid, she has been looking for ways to settle in since she arrived at Bustana. She keeps washing her face to remove the marks left by the cold, she queues up with her brother for food, and she smiles at everybody she meets.

"I miss my country, but what I really need is sleep!" she concludes.

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Despite her physical pain, Wafta sees her brothers and sister as a source of security. CC BY-SA 2.0 / Rasha Ahmed

"I'm from Homs. I live with my mother, my two big brothers and my sister. My father was killed and after that we didn't feel safe anymore. He was our symbol of security. "

"My mother decided to leave Homs and come to Jordan because life had become so difficult for us, especially after we lost my father. We didn't have any money. Me and my brothers and sister had to leave school. And I was nearly killed!"

Indeed, a sniper's bullet hit Watfa in the abdomen. She only survived because her brothers (12 and 13) carried her to hospital. Even now, her stomach hurts when she eats or moves.

"All I want is to be with my family in a safe place. It doesn't matter if I'm in pain, I just want to be with them, and see them happy again."

"I am now 8 years old, and I will never forget that I spent half of my first eight years in this war! I want Syria back."


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Taj el Deen and Khezam


Life is hard for Taj el Deen (left) and Khezam (right), but they have big hopes of starting again and supporting their small family.   CC BY-SA 2.0 / Rasha Ahmed


Taj el Deen (left) and Khezam (right) sound much older than their years. Their father died in an accident, in Homs, leaving them to support the family.

"Homs is lost and with it we lost all our dreams. Our dream of finishing our higher education, our dream of finding a decent job and our dream of living safe and happy in our homeland," says Taj el Deen.

"Life is hard for us. The fighting we've seen make me and my brother feel like we've suddenly got a lot older."

"We know that we won't be able to resume our education. And we know that we'll have to find a job, any job, to support our mother and our sisters. And we're realistic enough to accept these facts. That's life."


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Amira and Fatma


Amira and Fatma fled Hama with their young children and two babies. CC BY-SA 2.0 / Rasha Ahmed


"It was hell. I couldn't even leave home to get milk for my baby," says Amira (right). The shooting went on all day and night. It was so bad that I thought he was going to die, even though he was in my arms."

Amira is taking care of three children, Rafiq, Muhannad, and Belal, who is 18 months old. "I'm happy that my children and I are safe, but I'm really unhappy about the state we're in. We lost everything. Look at the clothes the baby and I are wearing. We've had them on for weeks if not months. And now we're heading to Zaatari camp where we'll be refugees, even though our homeland is just a few kilometers away"

Fatma continues: "I don't want to think about the past. I just want to forget it all. My big problem now is nappies. Shahd is 18 months old. If you touch her you'll feel how wet she is. It's cold and I can't change her wet nappy because I don't have any clean ones."

Even though these mothers are worried about their babies, there is a positive spirit among them. They are beginning to form a community where they come together with women from different Syrian cities, exchanging stories of war and suffering.

The things the women of Bustana need most are food and a warm place to sleep with their children. And nappies.


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His eyes are sad, but Muhammad still hopes to return home. CC BY-SA 2.0 / Rasha Ahmed 


His sad eyes are deep wells of pain and sorrow. But Muhammad had the courage to express his anger in front of the camera.

After leaving Hama in west-central Syria, Muhammad embarked on a dangerous journey across the country to Bustana. For four days of the long journey, he and his family crossed the desert, with Muhammad bearing not only the physical load of luggage and children, but also the emotional burdens of responsibility for his wife and a keen awareness of the loss they had suffered. "We walked all day, sleeping outside at night in some really rough weather. We expected to die at any moment. When my children said they were hungry, it broke my heart."

"I'm a simple man, a worker who lives from day to day. But now I don't feel human anymore. I'm bleeding deep inside. I feel helpless. Look around at all these men. They're good people, some of them were well-off, but they all lost everything. Everything they owned. But we all want to go back when Syria returns."


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In 2013, the ICRC:

  •  provided more than 78,000 Syrian refugees crossing the border into eastern Jordan with blankets, mattresses, pillows, children’s clothing, emergency biscuits and hygiene items;
  • provided almost 68,000 cooked meals for Syrian refugees crossing the border into eastern Jordan, in partnership with a local charity association;
  • supplied around 100,000 Syrian refugees living in local communities in northern Jordan with rice, bulghur, white beans, lentils, cooking oil, canned tuna, tea and other food items, as well as hygiene items such as soap, shampoo and washing powder, in cooperation with the Jordan Red Crescent Society;
  • provided 1,000 Syrian refugees living in local communities in the northern governorate of Mafraq with cash assistance as part of a programme implemented with the Jordan Red Crescent Society;
  • provided six sites in the eastern and central border areas with 35 shelter caravans, two 45-square-metre dispensary tents, 12 sanitary facilities equipped with toilets and in some cases showers, 13 drinking water dispensers, 12 wash basins, 35 water tanks, six septic tanks, six diesel generators, five solar water heaters and 20 solid-waste containers;

More facts & figures ....