Suha Maayeh reports: For Aysha, a 28-year-old Syrian refugee in Jordan, her small Nokia cell phone is a lifeline to a loved one on the front lines of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
It’s the only way she can contact her husband, who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Layla. They talk almost every day. He has joined the ranks of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), leaving her with their three children and making her one of many “rebel wives” keeping the faith on the other side of the border. It has been two weeks since she last saw him.
Aysha often rode on the back of her husband’s motorcycle before he went off to war, her black niqab flowing behind her as he drove. Now her world is a lot less glamorous. She spends most of her day at home — a box-like three-bedroom rented apartment, dotted with mattresses and featuring only one small window — taking care of her three daughters, mopping floors, and hand-washing the laundry. The apartment was paid for with money scrounged together from local charities, sympathizers, and their Jordanian neighbors, and their daily survival is dependent on this private aid.
The stresses of refugee life, which include hosting her in-laws, have taken their toll on Aysha. She has lost weight since her husband rejoined the front lines — partly due to worry, partly because she doesn’t have enough money to buy food. Sitting on a mattress in her sparsely furnished apartment in this dusty Jordanian border town, she admits she doesn’t know when she’ll see her husband again.
“My fate is with the Free Syrian Army,” she says with resignation.
Aysha is the eldest of her five sisters — one of three who fled to Jordan due to their husbands’ revolutionary activities, while the other two reside in Syria and send money when they can. She lived in the southern Syrian city of Daraa and arrived in Jordan in May 2011, a month after her husband escaped from Syria. Abu Layla, who was a leader of an anti-Assad group in Daraa and distributed machine guns to the rebels, was arrested for two weeks last year for his involvement in the revolt. He bribed an official at the Syrian border to ensure his wife and daughters safe passage into Jordan.
It’s a painful story, shared by thousands of other Syrian women who fled the violence. The escalating violence in Syria — opposition groups place the death toll at over 17,000 — has resulted in a swelling wave of refugees to Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, estimates that it has assisted almost 100,000 Syrian refugees in these countries since the revolution kicked off in March 2011 — more than double the number it had assisted just three months ago. In Syria itself, at least 500,000 people have been internally displaced, according to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. Many of these refugees inside and outside Syria live in dire conditions, and aid organizations have struggled to bring in badly needed relief.
Jordan may have opened its doors to Syrians — accommodating 140,000 since the revolt broke out, by its own figures — but that doesn’t mean life is easy for the refugees there. In recent months, hundreds have crossed the border illegally on a daily basis. Once they arrive, they are taken to an overcrowded, run-down shelter in Ramtha known as the “Bashabsheh” — named after the family that owns it — before they are sent onward to three other transit facilities. Security and military defectors stay at a different shelter in the northern city of Mafraq, for their own safety. They are only allowed a few days’ freedom to see their families. [Continue reading…]