The on-going Syrian conflict has been brutal and gut-wrenching since it began in 2011. Millions of innocent humans have had to flee the only land they’ve called home in search of some modicum of safety. Many of those people can never return, lest they face the wrath of an unforgiving, soulless government that seems hellbent on destroying one of the world’s most historic countries.
The spillover effect from the ensuing refugee crisis has put multiple places, Jordan among them, in a bind. Roughly 5.6 million people have fled Syria, with nearly one quarter of those individuals decamping to neighboring Jordan, a country of fewer than 10 million with very little by way of natural resources.
About half of the Syrian refugees in Jordan live in urban centers. Bradley Secker, a Turkey resident who has covered the Syrian conflict since it began, visited one of them — along with a refugee camp — for German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel.
I think there’s a misconception that all Syrian refugees in neighboring countries live in refugee camps. Though many do, this is very far from the reality.
In both Jordan and Turkey — where I’ve lived for eight years — the vast majority of people classified as refugees live in urban centers with minimal, if any, financial or psychological support.
In many ways, these centers are like prison. The only thing these refugees have is time, which means there is an abundance of boredom.
Having followed and photographed the situation for Syrian refugees for so many years in Turkey, Europe, Iraq, and Lebanon, I saw a similar situation in Jordan. That same sense of resignation and boredom, along with a mix of hopelessness and optimism, was clear.
So, how do people go about keeping themselves busy? Well, kids can play board games and do some schooling. Adults, however, have to think a little more outside the box. Many of the women trapped in these camps have started their own small businesses, using their skillsets as a way to make the best of a horrid situation — and bring in some money to an otherwise dire financial predicament. Bradley noted the sense of humor these ladies had in the face of the kind of hardships no human being should have to go through.
It was lovely to meet the women who ran the small businesses, especially the people who knit clothing and produce Syrian soaps. They have amazing entrepreneurial spirits.
One of the older ladies at the knitting and soap business said she was likely going to return to Syria due to the high cost of living in Jordan. When we asked if she had any concerns, she giggled and said, ‘well if there’s no power, my husband and I can light a candle and it’ll be romantic!’
Though there are differences between urban centers and refugee camps, certain similarities remain: slow days, long nights, and lots of time alone with your thoughts. When such is the case, it’s the simple things that can bring the greatest joy. I asked Bradley about some of his favorite shots from the work and he mentioned one of three men in a gym from the refugee camp he visited. What better way to distract yourself from the horror around you than by getting some exercise?
From when I shot in and around Azraq refugee camp, one of my favorite images is of the young men working out in the small gym in the camp.
For me, it represented optimism, fun, and an important sense of normalcy for people living in a very unnatural place made mostly of canvas tents.
One of the vital aspects of this work is the fact that Bradley did it for Der Spiegel, one of the most well-known publications in Germany, Europe, and the world. It’s the latter of these three that needs to learn of these stories, that needs to see what these people are going through and how they’re persevering. Bradley understands the significance of getting the chance to impact a large number of readers.
I have worked on a couple of features and stories for Der Spiegel. My connection to them came via the journalist colleague I was working with on this story, Franziska Tschinderle. Der Spiegel is a well-regarded publication in both German and English-speaking countries, so it is always rewarding to work with them, as you know the story will get some attention and reach a large audience.
Writer: Franziska Tschinderle
See more of Bradley’s work at bradleysecker.com.
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