Published in The Independent on 31st August 2015 here.
A Palestinian-Syrian refugee from Yarmouk has become the latest viral sensation to hit the Internet. Abdul, a single father of two, was photographed with his daughter slung over his shoulder, selling biros in the streets of Beirut. An activist utilized the magic of the Internet to find him and within just three hours thousands of dollars were raised. On the face of it, such outpourings of compassion demonstrate the collective power of the Internet – of humans helping each other out.
But stories like Abdul’s are not uncommon. His plight is echoed in millions of people across the region and across the world. In Lebanon alone, Syrian refugees make up 1.2 million of a roughly 4.5 million population. Indeed Lebanon has more refugees per capita than any other nation in the world (hear that, Europe?). Lebanon has no ‘formal’ refugee camps, and beggars and street children are a common phenomenon. In Jordan, the Zaatari refugee camp houses over 80,000 Syrian refugees with the camp rapidly becoming a permanent settlement. In fact, one in five Syrians are now refugees according to the UN. All these numbers represent individual lives – lives we will never hear of nor see. What about those displaced people who are systematically ignored, marginalized and unheard?
21st April, 2015
Published in The Independent here
Last winter my cousin died on a migrant ship in the Mediterranean Sea. Amjad was 26 years old. My family were ethnically cleansed from Palestine in 1948, after which they settled in Damascus. Since 2011 they have been embroiled in a war not of their making. Food, water, heating, security and hope are becoming luxuries, scarcer by the day.
Meanwhile, I can buy mangoes and coconuts in December, I attend a top university, and my idea of a problem is when ‘Orange is the New Black’ won’t load on Netflix. My cousin and I are no different – we have the same genetic make-up, speak the same language and follow the same religion. And yet my maroon British passport gives me both immunity and freedom, whereas he perished fleeing a bloodthirsty civil war. Borders do not and should not mean anything: it is simply by chance that I am here and they are there. Where is the justice in that?
I’ve often heard it said that Amman is one of the most boring cities in the Arab world. That judgement is not altogether untrue, it somewhat lacks the key ingredient that makes the Middle East the richest place in the world: history. Modern-day Amman has barely been around since the 18th century, practically an embryo when compared to Damascus, which is the oldest inhabited city in the world, not to mention Baghdad, Jerusalem, Cairo et al. They also say Amman seems to lacks culture: the markets aren’t as bustling, the mosques aren’t as beautiful and the food (a big part of Arabic society) isn’t as flavoursome and there are malls, MacDonald’s and brands galore.
Having said that, Amman’s young history is precisely why its people are carving out their own. Jordan – especially Amman – is a nation of refugees. Over 60% of the population are Palestinian refugees, be it from the Nakba (1948), 1967 or any of the other contentious points in the demise of Palestine. Since then there has been an influx of Iraqis post-2003 and (of late) Syrians, not to mention the six million economic migrants from Egypt.