Tom Cartwright: The refugee lives of the children of Amman

Mark Stevenson

There is something about the journey of refugees that makes them feel alive. This, I believe, is one of the reasons that their experiences are so well-suited to the art of fiction.

The refugee journey had never really been explored as a subject in fiction, but we will see a few more books of this kind in the years to come.

I am spending time in Geneva, Switzerland, this week with BBC World Service’s North Africa producer Robin Sperandeo.

He is on his way back to Tanzania after we spent two weeks travelling in Jordan, northern Lebanon and Cyprus with a group of Yemeni children and their families.

Sometimes, people rely on drama – not just a meal, but moments that make them wonder what the future holds.

For the Syrian father who arrives in Amman, we saw how he got to the port that day.

There was a so-called smuggler to get him to Jordan. Once in Amman, he had to pay $30,000 (about £22,000). His son stayed behind, with relatives.

As soon as they leave the land of Syria, life in Jordan is much harder than anyone can imagine.

The potholes here are like crevices carved into a hard surface, and they are right there in the middle of the road. The child is sometimes too nervous to walk down them.

The taxis are an adventure, however, and ferry us to the place the father has come to see. It’s the only place in Jordan that is safe for children.

We get to watch men, women and children walk over the border each day, chanting together, in front of an international observer.

We watch how the adults abandon their gizmos for a moment – to lead children to the other side and show them the beautiful, frozen landscape.

Other children come, too, sometimes sick, not much older than their uncles and aunts.

In Amman, we leave children, and we see adults carry children as young as two on their shoulders. One boy carries the hand of an old man who is unable to move very far.

It is, however, not easy to follow this path when it is raining.

Back in Jordan, the children spend much of their day outdoors.

Teaching our interviewees how to write and draw, we see them draw people from their own home country, re-telling the stories of their childhood.

It’s hard to take them away from the concrete reality of their lives.

But for others, it is more than just the harsh daily realities of living in Jordan that are hard to take.

It’s the daily difficulties of finding shelter – food – or people to help children after they get sick.

It’s the daily hardships of crossing dangerous borders, carrying all that this journey has exposed them to.

There are those who still have hope, who still believe.

They believe life will get better, just as they are being handed down to each other.

We heard their stories before we got to the camps.

We heard them from young boys and girls so young that they had no memory of real life in Syria, now bombed out and occupied by government forces.

We met them in the Gaza camps, who had recently returned from journeys inside Egypt.

Then we met them in Jordan, all so keen to find a new home that their futures would hold no fear.

We have watched them disappear back to their world, disappear into the daily reality, returning from conversations with new friends and new faces.

But there is always that hope – still despite everything.

And the importance of that hope is recognised by the life expectancy in Jordan.

It’s better than anywhere else. So for these refugees, hope is there, even when it is not enough.

And each time they leave the camp, again and again, they will do it 100 times over.

• Mark Stevenson is a reporter for BBC World Service’s North Africa broadcast team

Leave a Comment