Refugees of 44 nationalities currently residing in Jordan should not be ignored — UNHCR

Jun 21, 2014

by Gaelle Sundelin

AMMAN — World Refugee Day is not a day to celebrate but a day to “pay tribute” to both refugees and the Jordanians hosting them and raise awareness, UNHCR staff said as they marked the occasion on Thursday in their Khalda headquarters in the capital.

The event, which gathered UN agencies and NGO representatives, alongside ambassadors and other officials, was an occasion to display artwork, music and poetry created and performed by refugees themselves.

“We know refugees as a big number but when you look at these hopes and dreams they have, it reminds you that there are individuals behind these numbers just like anyone else,” Hannah Rose Thomas, a UNHCR intern who developed the arts projects, told The Jordan Times at the ceremony.

Since April 2014, the artist said she had been working together with refugees to paint three colorful tents around the themes of hopes, dreams and memories, where they could express themselves freely and regain self-confidence.

From filling front pages of magazines and newspapers for the past two years to becoming colorful expressions of refugees’ identity, the infamous UNHCR tents were also an occasion for the guests to concretely grasp the limited living space many refugees live in.

“We wanted to convey the impact of war on families and the displacement, and fragmented lives being pieced back together again, so we used tents because they are a powerful symbol of displacement… and decided to turn them into pieces of beauty,” said Thomas, who studied art in London.

Within each tent, creative projects by the Norwegian Refugee Council, the International Relief and Development and Relief International were displayed, such as clothes and bags made out of unusable UNHCR tents or letters from refugee children calling on the world not to forget them.

“I love doing creative projects involving arts, dance, music… that enables [people] to convey messages to the world in an unusual way, and here we used the canvas of the tent as the medium for that,” said Frauke Riller, UNHCR external relations officer and focal point for World Refugee Day.

Noting that participating in the artistic experience has helped her combat some of her own prejudices, Riller pointed out that showing the artistic skills of refugees is a way to help people overcome their prejudice about refugees being mere aid recipients with little skills and education.

“The project reflects what the refugees have to say… especially the ‘hope’ tent shows their feelings, aspirations and questions, and we realize they are the same as any other [people] living anywhere in the world,” she said.

Despite sharing common dreams with the rest of the world, there is a deepening divide among refugees themselves in terms of attention paid and services granted to the different nationalities of displaced people in Jordan.

Iraqis, Sudanese and Somalis are among the 44 nationalities of refugees in the Kingdom, according to UNHCR Representative to Jordan Andrew Harper.

These refugees suffer from a decrease or absence of budgets earmarked to support them, leaving them in severe impoverishment, Harper warned.

“It is very easy with the Syrian crisis being in the limelight to forget that there are [other nationalities]… they are in dire straits and increasingly so,” Riller said.

While the art was realized by Syrian refugees, the event also brought together Iraqi oud player Waseem Somari and guitarist Ali Khalid as well as Sudanese poet Amal Mohamed, thereby shedding light on these often overlooked communities.

Mohamed, who arrived in Jordan eight months ago, read a piece of hers entitled “Feelings of a refugee woman”, where she not only expressed the hardship she is facing as a refugee, but also conveyed her gratitude to her host country.

“Despite all that, we shall not lose hope as Jordan, our second home and loving cradle, has bestowed great generosity upon us,” Mohamed said in the poem.

Although World Refugee Day was an occasion to recognize and salute Jordan’s generosity in welcoming refugees from various crisis areas, the worsening situation in neighboring Iraq does not bode well, and a new refugee influx could be expected, according to the UNHCR.

“Unfortunately, the situation in the region is becoming increasingly unstable… and, if anything, we need to be prepared to accept more people coming from Syria but also from Iraq,” Harper said in his welcoming address, calling upon the international community to increase support to Jordan.

According to UNHCR figures, there are almost 1.3 million refugees and asylum seekers from all nationalities in Jordan, a figure projected to increase by 100,000 by the end of 2014.

World Refugee Day, first celebrated in 2001, is observed around the world on June 20.

Source: The Jordan Times.


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