We want to go home and rebuild our lives’

Newly arrived Syrian children register for school in the Za'atari refugee camp, northern Jordan. Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance
Newly arrived Syrian children register for school in the Za'atari refugee camp, northern Jordan. Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance
Published November 29, 2012

The national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) is urging Canadians to be generous in supporting relief efforts for Syrian refugees in Jordan who have fled fierce fighting between government and opposition forces in their homeland.

With the approach of winter, Bishop Susan Johnson said the biggest concern is keeping people warm since many fled with just the clothes on their back and are now living in tents.

On November 25, Johnson, along with Robert Granke, executive director of the Canadian Lutheran World Relief (CLWR), visited the Za’atari refugee camp, located in a desert in northern Jordan. Children and youth make up 55 per cent of the camp’s population of more than 45,000.

“We saw many children in t-shirts with no shoes on a day when it was about 12 degrees,” said Johnson in an interview with the Anglican Journal.

Nighttime temperatures really dip down in the desert and efforts are underway to winterize the tents. It will cost about $200 to provide winter clothing, winterize shelters and provide heaters per family. The CLWR is raising money for this, along with other relief efforts currently being undertaken by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in the camp. Last August, the LWF signed a memorandum of understanding with the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization (JHCO), which is coordinating assistance to refugees in the camp.

Johnson expressed confidence that the goal of keeping refugees warm will resonate with Canadians, who understand what it means to potentially die from the cold. Canadians in particular are sympathetic towards the plight of refugees since for generations, so many of them have come to Canada as refugees themselves, noted Johnson. “Our constituency has always responded well to such appeals and we are convinced that they will do so again at this time.”

The CLWR is urging the Canadian government to increase its support and consider matching donations by Canadians for Syrian refugees. The United Nations estimates that at least 2.5 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes because of the unrelenting violence that erupted in March 2011. Other countries that are hosting refugees are Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.

The Harper government pledged about $7 million for relief efforts, but Johnson said the needs are greater because the number of refugees has doubled since then. In Jordan alone, about 400 new refugees arrive each day, said Johnson. As of mid-November, more than 250,000 refugees have arrived in Jordan, with a vast majority hosted by local communities.

Johnson also called on Canadians to pray for the refugees and for peace in Syria. What refugees want most is to go home, she said. “Everyone we talked to said that ‘as soon as the bombs stop dropping, we want to go home and we want to rebuild our lives.’ ”

Donations for relief efforts, which also includes psychosocial support for the Syrian refugees in Jordan, can be made by going to www.clwr.org and clicking on the “Donate Now” button and locating “Syrian Refugee Relief” under Emergencies.

To learn more about the Za’atari refugee camp, watch this video.


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