WFP distributes hot meals and bread at the Bashabsheh centre before refugees move to other locations where they receive value-based food vouchers. Copyright: WFP/Laure Chadraoui
As conflict intensified in Damascus and Aleppo, thousands of Syrians crossed to Jordan seeking safety. The spill of Syrian refugees into Jordan has reached its peak this week with two thousand Syrians crossing on one single day. Many of them sought to quench their children’s hunger. Oum Qassem arrived recently with her family to the Cyber City transit centre in Ramtha, north of Jordan. There, WFP is providing weekly family food packages as the centre has been equipped with cooking facilities.
“Before we came here, we had nothing. My husband lost his job, the man who used to bring us bread was killed and bakeries were closed,” says Oum Qassem, a mother of six children from Dara’a. “For 25 days, all we could eat was stale bread. One day, I saw my children fry some onions to eat. It brought tears to my eyes.”
The surge in the number of Syrian refugees fleeing Syria to Jordan has placed additional constraints on the government, host communities and humanitarian agencies struggling to assist them. WFP designed a multi-faceted operation that combines providing Syrian refugees with food vouchers, direct distributions and hot meals.
WFP is working to ensure refugees’ food needs are met, whether they are in transit centres, urban areas or in the tented camp site that is due to open soon.
The Government of Jordan reports that over 140,000 Syrians have entered the country. More than 36,000 of them are registered with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). They arrived in Jordan with few assets and little cash. Many families have now depleted their resources and are increasingly dependent on humanitarian assistance.
Oum Qassem was happy to see her children eat well but also hopes here they can forget the suffering they lived back home. “At school, they would hear gunshots…mothers would run in the streets shouting ‘my son, my son!!’ My son’s friend was killed and he keeps asking ‘where is khaled, baba (dad in Arabic)?’”
At Cyber City, one of four transit facilities for Syrians who crossed illegally, WFP is moving to a food voucher programme that enables refugees to buy their own food from nearby shops. This allows refugees to choose what they need especially fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy products that are not normally included in conventional food rations.
“WFP often uses vouchers when refugees are accommodated close to markets and shops are open. Our assistance targets the most vulnerable and tose who do not have the means to buy food,” says Emergency Refugee Coordinator for Jordan. “The use of vouchers also boosts the local economy,” she explains.
When Mohammad heard the news all he could think of is the tomato and onion dish, his wife’s specialty. Mohammad, also from Dara’a, spent a few days at the Bashabsheh transit centre where he received WFP’s daily hot meals. He doesn’t complain but the food his wife used to cook had a special taste which he can now savour again thanks to the vouchers.
“We are grateful for the hot meals we received, but nothing compares to the cooking from the hands of my wife,” he said with a shy smile.
In addition to the Bashabsheh, refugees receive hot meals in two other transit centres, King Abdullah Park and the Stadium.
WFP, with its implementing partners the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization (JHCO) and Jordan Red Crescent (JRC), is also targeting 35,000 Syrian refugees living with host communities in Irbid, Zarqa, Marfaq, Karak and Amman with food vouchers and will reach 70,000 by the end of the year as part of a regional voucher operation planned for Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey.