Story by Susan Schaefer, National Headquarters, Casework and Database Associate
The other day I saw a post on UNHCR’s Facebook page introducing the world to Sultan, the 3501st Syrian refugee born in Za’atari camp. He’s small – nine hours old in the photo, wrapped in warm blankets, has a head full of dark, thick hair and he’s sticking out his little tongue. Then I wonder: did I meet his mother?
On a recent trip to Kuwait and Jordan with my colleague and friend (and the Restoring Family Links’ caseworker for the region at our National Headquarters), Mark Owens, we had the opportunity to spend a day with the International Committee of the Red Cross’ Restoring Family Links team that works in Za’atari Camp. They visit the camp at Jordan’s border with Syria three times a week and offer families there a chance to connect to the loved ones they have been separated from following their flight from the ongoing violence in Syria. They track information, of course, like is the client ‘new’ - truly Restoring Family Links - or a ‘return customer’ - what they call ‘MFL’ - Maintaining Family Links. But they do so much more than that.
The day we are there, the team helps nearly 70 people make phone calls to their families. They also take an allegation of arrest from a young woman. Her husband has been arrested and she has heard no further news, so she wants to see if ICRC can find him in one of the prisons in Syria. They patiently dial phone numbers that don’t always get answered. They listen to so many stories. They give their compassion but they also laugh with their visitors. They build relationships.
To manage the volume of people wanting and needing this service, the residents at Za’atari Camp get the chance to make a call every 2 weeks. Basel, the team leader, explains that after so many visits to the camp you get to know the people you are there to serve. You hear their phone calls, hear the joy - and the anguish - in their voices. You become a part of their family. A witness to their ingenuity, determination and resiliency.
We sit with the last two women to make a call this day, heads bent together sharing the earpiece. As they reach out to their father who won’t leave his home in Syria, I can’t help but wonder how I would fare if my own life were turned upside down. Could I be as strong as these women in front of me? As hopeful as the young woman looking for her husband? Almost in answer to my contemplations, Basel laughs as a woman marches past our door to an unknown destination. He turns to me and translates her exclamation:
“You can’t stop me, I’m a Syrian Refugee!”