My colleagues and I reach the small, withered doorway of an old apartment building in central Amman after a precarious decent down a steep set of craggily concrete stairs. From outside we can hear a group of voices talking over the dim hum of a grainy radio, though access to the building is obstructed by a canopy of wet, drying clothes strung about a low lying chain of crisscrossed metal wires.
Inside, surrounded by the building’s unfinished walls, fifteen or so men are gathered around the makings of a modest dinner. Though they have little – just black beans and rice – they are quick to invite us for supper. We politely decline and instead ask to see the rest of the two-bedroom apartment that the men share.
“I arrived from Sudan two months ago,” says Ghadar, a native of Darfur who now lives in the communal space. “This is not what I expected but alhamdulillah it’s a place to stay.”
Leaders from the Sudanese community in Amman believe Ghadar to be one of 3,000
displaced persons from Sudan, South Sudan and Darfur now living in Jordan. Exact numbers are hard to come by, however, as many displaced Sudanese are unregistered or awaiting processing with the United Nations’ Agency for Refugees (UNHCR), the organization responsible for overseeing refugee affairs in Jordan.
According to UNHCR, the Sudanese community is only one of 44 nationalities represented in Jordan’s displaced population. In addition to more than 600,000 Syrians and 400,000 Iraqis, asylum seekers from Somalia, Ethiopia and Yemen– among others – now reside in the country. Unfortunately, the unprecedented scale of the Syrian crisis has made it difficult for humanitarian organizations to address the needs of minority refugee groups, as most funding funneled into Jordan is earmarked specifically for Syrian nationals.
Jared Kohler / UNHCR
While UNHCR maintains a strong commitment to helping refugees regardless of their nationality, the current funding climate of humanitarian aid – and the resultant holes in support services for minority refugee groups – has created a sense of apathy among some Sudanese. In my recent conversations with individuals from the community, many commented that they feel invisible or forgotten by the outside world. “We need people to know that we exist, to know that we are here. Then maybe they can help us,” says Ismail, a 25-year-old native of Darfur that now serves as community organizer to Jordan’s Sudanese population.
In lieu of sufficient support, Ismail and a group of his peers run a grassroots, community driven resource network that pools Sudanese social and financial capital to benefit those most in need. “We find new arrivals and give them a place to live, something to eat. If they get into trouble, we go with them to the prisons, to the aid organizations or to the hospitals. No one should be alone,” says Ismail, who himself was taken in off the street by fellow Sudanese refugees after arriving to Amman in the spring of 2012.
The brotherhood shared among the Sudanese community in Jordan persists despite the
group’s tribal diversity. Ismail believes that displacement has helped to diminish tribal tensions by acting as a sort of equalizing common ground: “Yes, we come from different tribes but we’re all here for the same reasons. So we must to come together, we must help one another and we must share ideas if we want to improve our situation and overcome obstacles.”
Sounding Out Visibility
Throughout May and June, I worked with a team from UNHCR to organize a series of cultural events in honor of World Refugee Day. The final performance, which took place at UNHCR’s headquarters in Amman, featured both traditional Sudanese and Somali musicians.
While the Somali community is one of the smallest refugee groups in Jordan – there are estimated to be only 500 Somalis in the country, half of which are under the age of 18 – they experience difficulties similar to their Sudanese counterparts. Community elder Abu Shakur points out that in addition to limitations in aid allocation, Somalis regularly face racism, language and communication issues, and problems with law enforcement.
“Refugees like us are not permitted to work legally in Jordan. We want to respect the laws, to respect this country, but we also have to eat, we have to pay the rent. So many try to work and can end up arrested because of it,” says Abu Shakur.
For community organizer Haaruun Baree, the World Refugee Day concert was an opportunity to raise awareness about the plight of Somalis in Jordan: “We want people to see us and to know who we are, where we come from and how we live.”
Jared Kohler / UNHCR
Dressed in their finest traditional clothing, the musicians began the concert with Haybad Waxaad, a popular song that describes the beauty and bounty of their native country. The piece’s opening line – which the group chanted in unison – carried a heavy weight within the context of their displacement:
“In your homeland is where you have dignity and respect… in your homeland is where you
The four organizations listed below offer direct services to minority refugee groups in Jordan. Please consider supporting their work to help Sudanese and Somali refugees in Amman.
Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (Serves the Somali Community only)