Refugees who fled Assad are in need not only of food, but also of spiritual guidance, says Salafi NGO executive
AMMAN, Jordan — A pile of colorful mattresses lie on a street corner in the working-class Nazal neighborhood of east Amman. Next to them are cartons of powdered milk and brand-new mini refrigerators in their boxes. A woman stands next to the merchandise, likely awaiting a cab to help take her home with the allotment.
The people receiving these goods are destitute Syrian refugees who have found their way to the Jordanian capital. The organization giving them away is Nidaa’ Al-Kheir, or Call to Justice, a Salafi Islamic NGO dedicated to supplying emergency assistance to over 100,000 Syrian refugees who have streamed into Jordan since the intensification of fighting in Syria.
‘We have noticed that the religious aspect is absent form the lives of many families,’ Omar says. ‘Some don’t even know the basics of the religion. The [Assad] regime, which rules them, played a large part in this.’
Nidaa’ Al-Kheir was established two years ago as the emergency branch of another Islamist non-profit, Al-Kitab Wal-Sunna, whose mission statement is “Instilling the culture of Sharia in all segments of the nation” through lectures, conferences, and book publishing.
Outside the nearby offices of Nidaa’ Al-Kheir, a small group of disgruntled Syrian refugees impatiently waits behind locked gates.
“Why did they start an organization if they don’t receive the people and we have to wait outside like beggars?” asks one woman, who says she fled her hometown of Homs in March “under bombardment” when food and water ran out. She has a sister in Jordan who could vouch for her with the Jordanian authorities. “I have come here five times already. They won’t register us, or even answer the phone.”
A banner outside the locked offices of Nidaa’ Al-Kheir asks refugees to schedule an appointment before arriving to pick up aid packages (photo credit: Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)
An organization executive — wearing a long, white robe and with a trimmed beard — emerges from a side door and gently leads me away from the angry refugees. “I will tell you everything you want to know,” he says, as he escorts me to his office inside the building, cordially brushing off pleading, impatient men holding UN documents.
“The organization was established for Jordanians, but two months later the Syrian crisis intensified and we were forced to assist our Syrian brothers,” says the man, who shall be called Omar to protect his identity.
Syrians who enter the country illegally (i.e., not through an official border crossing) are sent to refugee camps run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The largest such camp is Za’atari, which currently houses over 30,000 refugees. Syrians with a Jordanian guarantor are promptly released from the camp, with the exception of Syrians of Palestinian origin.
Unlike Syrian refugees, Palestinians coming from Syria cannot be released into Jordan with the help of a local guarantor.
Unlike Syrian refugees, Palestinians coming from Syria cannot be released into Jordan with the help of a local guarantor
Palestinians are separated from the rest, housed in Cyber City, an industrial zone east of Irbid, near the Syrian border. They cannot be released into Jordan even with the help of a guarantor, Omar says.
According to UNHCR, 65 percent of Syrian refugees live in Jordanian cities and just 35 percent reside in refugee camps. Currently numbering 103,488, the UN expects the total number of Syrian refugees in Jordan to climb to 250,000 by the end of the year.
With seven offices nationwide, Nidaa’ Al-Kheir only assists refugees outside the camps. Some 5,300 families are registered with the Amman office, Omar says, and there is a total of 17,665 families across the Kingdom. He estimates that some 100,000 refugees currently receive benefits from his organization. If Omar’s numbers are correct, his group assists the vast majority of Syrian refugees in Jordan.
Aid includes both cash and commodities. At first, the organization would reimburse refugees for their rent up to 100 Jordanian dinars ($140), but the influx of refugees and the decrease in donations has forced the organization to prioritize. Today, families of “martyrs” and widows come first, then families with no provider, followed by families of injured refugees. The organization also gives out food packages, home furnishing, kitchen appliances and school equipment.
But true to its mother organization, Nidaa’ Al-Kheir oversees the refugees’ spiritual well-being too. About 1,000 copies of the Koran were distributed in the Za’atari refugee camp, and 2,000 copies of classic commentary were given out across the country. A modern Islamic handbook titled “50 Candles to Guide Your Way,” by Syrian Islamist preacher Abdul Karim Bakkar, is another hit among refugees.
A book on ‘Islamic rights’ distributed to refugees upon request (photo credit: Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)
“We have noticed that the religious aspect is absent from the lives of many families,” Omar says. “Some don’t even know the basics of the religion. The [Assad] regime, which rules them, played a large part in this.”
He says that, during the distribution of aid across Jordan, volunteers from his organization have often delivered public lectures on issues such as prayer.
Omar admits that his organization’s lack of funds reflects badly on its image with the refugees, referring to the raucous scene outside the office. But, unfortunately, swindlers exist as well.
As he escorts me out, a young refugee complains that he has not been registered. Omar listens patiently and tells the man that he will see what he can do. At the corner, Omar whispers in my ear that the documents the man produced were forged; many Syrians have been living in Jordan for years, and are now claiming refugee status to receive the benefits.