The third story in our ‘Rhetoric and Reality’ series focuses on Abu Salem, a refugee living in Marka Camp, Jordan.
Article 25. of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
A refugee receives treatment at an UNRWA health clinic
Abu Salem is 45 years old. He lives with his wife and three children in a two-room shelter in Marka camp in north-east Amman. In July 2008 Abu Salem discovered that he has cancer. Ever since, he has been knocking on the doors of every institution he can think of - private, public and charities – to seek assistance with the high cost of the medical treatment he so badly needs.
"I sold the furniture of my house, which is under mortgage right now, in order to pay for the medical tests," says a strained looking Abu Salem. "I have struggled to get enough money together to pay for the tests, let alone the treatment cost."
Jordanian citizens who suffer from cancer and other chronic diseases are treated at government hospitals with exemption from most of the costs. Abu Salem, however, is not a Jordanian citizen.
Abu Salem was displaced from Gaza during the Israeli-Arab war of 1967. As an ex-Gazan Abu Salem is barred from the full citizenship rights that other Palestine refugees enjoy in Jordan.
In Jordan there are about 132,000 ex-Gazans registered with UNRWA, constituting only 7 per cent of the 1.9 million registered refugees. While most Palestine refugees in Jordan have been granted Jordanian citizenship and enjoy the related rights, ex-Gazan refugees hold a temporary Jordanian passport valid for a period of two years and do not have a national number.
This puts the population at a great disadvantage as they cannot work for the government, they cannot vote nor can they own land. Moreover, they do not get access to free national health care and entitlement to health insurance and social support meaning that if they fall sick they have no safety net.
Despite the disadvantages he faced as an ex-Gazan, Abu Salem was getting by relatively well. Having gained a diploma in land surveying in 1983, he found a job with a private land surveying firm which meant he was able to support his family.
"Although we used to live from hand to mouth, I was able to secure the minimum requirements for my family." Abu Salem explains. "However, our life has been turned upside-down since the day I found out that I have cancer".
Sadly, due to his deteriorating health, Abu Salem was forced to quit four months ago. Now, out of work and desperately seeking funds to support his family as well as somehow pay for his medical care, Abu Salem is anxious about the future of his children. "I do not know what the future holds for them with a situation like ours".
In fact the family have become so impoverished that they have been registered with UNRWA as a special hardship case (SHC), meaning that they are classified as the poorest of the poor. As an SHC he receives cash and in kind assistance, but the cost of his cancer treatment can not be covered.
In recent years there has been a rise in the number of cases of non communicable diseases (NCDs) such as hypertension, diabetes and cancer, among refugee populations. These diseases are much more expensive to treat than communicable diseases (CD) such as intestinal infestation and viral hepatitis, and there are simply not enough resources to cover care.
The family‘s shelter in Marka camp needs major repairs. However, Abu Salem’s request for repairing the house was turned down because he does not have a national number. "When it rains, I have to wake up in the middle of the night to move my children from one place to another because of the leakage in the ceiling" said Abu Salem.
The state of the shelter has been affecting not only Abu Salem’s health but also that of his children. This is just one more worry to add to the family’s list. Without the safety net of health care and insurance the family, plunged into poverty, faces a bleak future.
Without the protection afforded by citizenship, refugees like Abu Salem and his family, find themselves more vulnerable and less able to safeguard their basic rights. Barred from these basic rights the family have a daily struggle to maintain dignity and hope as they face uncertain times of hardship and ill health.