In Jordan's Capital City, Syrians Hoping To Resettle In U.S. React To Refugee Ban

Jan 30, 2017

In the U.S., protests, confusion and anger have followed President Trump’s executive order that prevents new refugees from entering the country for 120 days, suspends resettlement for Syrians indefinitely and bars travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days.

In Vermont, this policy will primarily affect Chittenden County, as well as Rutland, which had begun accepting Syrian refugees the week prior to Trump's order.

VPR’s Nina Keck is in Jordan this week. Her goal is to report on what life is like for Syrian refugees awaiting resettlement, the process they have to go through and the impact they’re having on their host country.

In the bustling city of Amman, midday traffic mixes with tradition as an elderly man sits on the sidewalk playing a wooden oud — the Middle Eastern ancestor of the modern guitar. Nine and a half million people live in Jordan, almost half in the sprawling capital city. 

Since war broke out in Syria in 2011, hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees have poured over the border seeking safety. So many that today, one out of every 10 people in Jordan is from Syria.

Amman, the capital city of Jordan, is about 50 miles from the Syrian border. Since war broke out in Syria in 2011, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have poured over the border to escape the fighting.
Credit Wiki Commons

At a downtown café, four young university students — all wearing hijabs, or head scarves — sit at a corner table enjoying coffee and cigarettes.

Sondos Ghaith, 20, says the refugee situation is a huge problem in Jordan. She says she’s frustrated by what she calls the racist U.S. decision to halt resettlement of Syrians and others from predominantly-Muslim countries.

“We help them because they are our brothers and they are Arabs like us,” Ghaith explains. “The problem is the Jordanian economy is very weak and cannot hold all that pressure helping so many people, and we wanted to help everybody and make it safe for everybody.”

The protests, violence and demonstrations that broke out across the Middle East during the 2011 Arab Spring greatly reduced tourism to Jordan, and border closings in the region have further slowed the economy.

Jordan is taking the burden of the Syrian refugee crisis, the young women point out, and the international community needs to help too.

Mohammed Alhafeth left Syria with his wife and their five children and fled to Jordan four years ago. Until President Trump's executive order was announced last week, Alhafeth and his family were deep in the process of being considered for resettlement in the U.S.
Credit Nina Keck / VPR

Across town at a sprawling eight-story apartment complex, Syrian refugee children play soccer in an alley strewn with trash.

Mohammed Alhafeth watches from the sidewalk. A Syrian, he says the bombings and warfare in Damascus got to be too much, and so he, his wife and their five children fled to Jordan four years ago.

He says they’d conducted two interviews and were well into the process of being considered for resettlement to the United States, until news came of the president’s executive order last week.

"There's a lot of people got destroyed. Some people — they sold their furniture, they turned in their apartment and all of a sudden they got a call from the U.N. saying that things have stopped." — Mohammed Alhafeth, a Syrian refugee living in Amman

“We got destroyed, mentally myself, and my kids – we went down to the ground. There is no more hope at all,” Alhafeth said.

For many other families he knows, it was even worse.  

“There’s a lot of people got destroyed,” Alhafeth explains. “Some people — they sold their furniture, they turned in their apartment and all of a sudden they got a call from the U.N. saying that things have stopped. These guys got traumatized, big time.”

Almost half of Jordan's 9.5 million people live in the capital city, Amman. Since war broke out in Syria in 2011, refugees have flooded into the country.
Credit Nina Keck / VPR

The United States resettles more refugees than any other country in the world and has for many years. Despite that, U.S. refugee officials in Jordan weren’t commenting on the Trump Administration’s new policy or what it means for refugees in Jordan.

Douglas Disalvo, a senior protection officer in Jordan with the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, was circumspect.

“I think we’ve seen challenges before and we’ve seen security concerns take a dominant role,” Disalvo says. “We’ve also seen those security concerns addressed successfully, and the fact that a very strong resettlement program has been able to be maintained, not only by the United States, but by many countries — and even increased in the years following the 9/11 attacks — is the testament to the ability of the system and institutions to find ways to respond to the needs that are out there.”

"We are not prejudiced people. Whether you are Christian or not, we respect all religions, and we go through a lot of security clearance in Jordan before they even take us out. So why does he feel there is a threat?" — Ahmed Saa', a Syrian refugee living in Amman

But Ahmed Saa’, a Syrian refugee who has been in Jordan for four years, is not sure how much longer he can wait. Standing outside his apartment with his three young children, he said his family too had completed several security interviews and were hopeful they’d be resettled in the United States — until last week.

“We are not prejudiced people. Whether you are Christian or not, we respect all religions, and we go through a lot of security clearance in Jordan before they even take us out. So why does he feel there is a threat? Why are they afraid?” Saa’ asks. “All we want to do is live in peace and provide for our family and contribute to the community.”

“We just don’t understand,” he said. “We just don’t understand.”    

Correction 4:45 p.m. 1/31/2017 The description of the president's executive order has been updated to include the specific limitations on travel and immigration put in place.

Support for this coverage is made possible in part by the VPR Journalism Fund.