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Syria's Refugees: "We Saw the Dead at Our Feet"

One family's journey to find safety across Syria's borders
Jordan
The view from a Syrian refugee settlement in Jordan. Photo: F. Seriex

Editor’s Note: The following was recounted by Florian Seriex, an Action Against Hunger communications specialist on site during a recent program assessment in the Syrian neighbor nation of Jordan.

Mahmoud’s hair was unkempt, his face covered in stubble, and his clothes wrinkled when we met him—he wore his life as a Syrian refugee quite literally on his sleeve. He wanted us to meet his family, in fact he insisted. He disappeared briefly, but came back to give us his phone number, address, and detailed directions.

A family in turmoil

Two hours later, we arrived in an alley in Kitim, a small village in the Jordanian province of Irbid. Mahmoud’s oldest son saw us from afar, and joined us to help lead the way. His two brothers, his sister, and his mother welcomed us in the main room. We sat on the floor, on mattresses placed against the white, bare walls. The room was dark, save for the glow of a television screen.

We asked Mahmoud what it was like to watch TV news and see the death and destruction at home. “We saw the dead at our feet,” he said. “So the images on TV aren’t much [of a shock anymore],” by comparison, he said.

One of his sons, 12-year-old Ahmad, grasps the new English book he got at school. There are no buses to get him there, and travel is expensive—but Mahmoud and his wife see the education of the children as paramount, and well worth the sacrifices.

For Mahmoud and his family, these sacrifices were many and ongoing. A year ago, they left Daraa in southwest Syria, in the still of night. During the day, shots rang out routinely and close to home—and the death toll was steadily rising. So the family made the long walk to the Jordanian border.

They were met by the Jordanian army, whose members helped lead them to Za’atari, which now surpasses Dadaab, Kenya as the world’s largest refugee camp. “We only stayed for two weeks,” Mahmoud explained. “The living conditions were horrible. We all got sick, so we decided to leave.”

With the unique advantage of having a brother already settled in the area, Mahmoud was able to find a tiny three-room house for his six-member family. Now, in the midst of unsettlement and poverty, they try their best to find a daily routine and to deal with the horror and tragedy they have faced.

“We saw the dead at our feet. So the images on TV aren’t much [of a shock anymore].”

Mahmoud, Syrian refugee in Jordan

Helping families get safe, secure, healthy

Action Against Hunger is helping tens of thousands of Syrian refugees in nearby Lebanon and Turkey. Our teams are currently assessing needs in neighboring Jordan, gauging a range of factors -- from economic and health conditions, to psychological to social needs -- among this rapidly growing body of refugees before determining where and how to provide needed services.

The number of Syrian refugees just surpassed a staggering two million. More than a million of those have poured into Jordan, and many more are on the way. The humanitarian community is hard at work helping to build safe, secure futures for both host populations and refugees—people just like Mahmoud and his family.

Help us assist refugees from Syria
and around the world

About Elisabeth Anderson Rapport

Elisabeth Anderson Rapport, Senior Communications Officer

Elisabeth is Action Against Hunger's senior communications officer, reporting on our impact and current events around the world.

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