Peterborough's Michael VanDerHerberg—who works at the New Canadians Centre as a Refugee Resettlement Coordinator—has spent the past week in Jordan, an Arab nation on the east bank of the Jordan River that borders Syria, Iraq, Saudia Arabia, Israel and Palestine.
MIchael was there to gain firsthand knowledge of the refugee crisis. Below are photos and a dispatch he wrote for PTBOCanada.com about his time there....
WHAT I LEARNED IN JORDAN —By Michael VanDerHerberg
Jordan is a generous host country to Syrian refugees, and seemingly, the last bastion of peace and stability in the Middle East. It was described to me that the nation is walking a fine line, and more like a tightrope a kilometre off the ground.
They have taken in so many refugees over the years including Palestinian, Iraqi, and now Syrian people, but their generosity must be limited by their resources, particularly water. I had an interesting conversation with Yosra Albakkar—a Trent Masters’ graduate—at the Swedish Embassy who indicated gently to me that water can’t be invented. It is a finite resource. And while wealthier nations could possibly afford desalination from the Red Sea or Mediterranean, Jordan is not in that position.
From a Canadian perspective, with our thousands of lakes and rivers, this is hard to fathom. Keep in mind though that Curve Lake First Nation does not have clean drinking water from the tap. While here, Yosra also challenged me that the displacement of peoples in the Middle East was not that dissimilar from our Indian Reserves.
It is good to understand that Jordan has done exceptionally well in keeping their borders relatively secure, even providing transportation from the borders as people flee their homes because of violence and civil unrest.
I won’t wade into the politics of the Syrian conflict, only to say that it is very complicated and that we receive only certain versions of it. Further adding to the complication were the recent executions in Saudi Arabia and the subsequent riots at the Saudi embassy in Iran. There are layers upon layers of history behind those two actions. It seems like it never stops and there is a significant sense of unrest in people who are peacefully attempting to live out their daily lives. “I don’t feel at peace, no, I don’t at all,” was a shocking quote from someone who has made every attempt at living at peace here.
There are simple people living good lives who are being wrapped up into conflict that they don’t wish for at all. When it becomes too dangerous for their families, they flee to Jordan, to Lebanon, to Turkey, to Greece, and even beyond farther into Europe. If they have money, which many of them do, they can go further. If not, they can only make it so far.
Many reside in refugee camps in Jordan but the majority do not. Of the roughly 650,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, only 15 percent live in camps like Zaatari where I visited.
Many would love the chance to be resettled to come to Canada, while many are willing to wait it out to return home. This is understandable, they are Syrian. Syria is their home. How would you respond if this happened to you? The conflict in Syria will likely not end quickly, some say not in the next five years, some say not in the next ten.
For those in the Zaatari, there are varying degrees of hope and hopelessness when waiting for peace, or at least stability, to return. While at Zaatari, home to roughly 79,250 people, I conversed at length with two men. One was quite hesitant about coming to Canada and the other was ready to move tomorrow. Among other reasons, the second was ready to move because his brother-in-law had just left that morning to be resettled in Canada with his family.
Through discussions at the Canadian Council for Refugees conference I attended in November, and reaffirmed through my travels I here, I would offer that family reunification for Syrian refugees is likely the best method to healthy integration for a few reasons:
· Family in Canada can explain to those away what life is like here in a cultural context that is familiar to them
· It is generally what both families long for; those left behind are waiting to be called and those in Canada can feel guilty and fearful for their families left behind
· It promotes a community connection where the likelihood of Syrian families staying and building lives up in Peterborough, or other communities, is strengthened
My encouragement to the Peterborough community is to get involved in sponsorship, and if you are starting now, then to connect with a sponsoring group that already has family in Peterborough to see if they have extended family interested in coming as well. The other is to learn, to have conversations with Syrian refugees that have already arrived, and to resist the temptation to boil complex problems down into simple rhetoric. Like Jordan, Peterborough can be a generous and welcoming community.
If you are interested in giving financially, may I suggest you look up the following: New Canadians Centre Peterborough, Lifeline Syria, Medair, UNHCR, and one of the many sponsoring groups that are forming and raising money to settle a Syrian family for their first year here in Canada.
I am looking forward to my return to @Ptbo_Canada / #Ptbo / Peterborough, my home.