Life as a Refugee... Asmaa Robin’s Story of Displacement Ten Years on

29 March 2021
Asmaa and her child in front of their home in Jordan. © 2021 UNRWA Photo

Asmaa, her husband and their three children gathered their lives into a small bag and fled from Syria to Jordan in July 2012. They drove for hours from Yarmouk camp to the Jordanian border, with their hopes, fears and dreams as airstrikes and bombs rained down from above. Can you imagine the fear they felt as they drove through the destruction of war, seeing corpses through their car windows? Asmaa’s family witnessed these very tragedies as they ran for their lives.

The protracted conflict in Syria has severely impacted Palestine refugees who had sought shelter in the country after their displacement from historic Palestine in 1948. The now 10-year conflict has resulted in most losing their homes and livelihoods. More than 60 per cent of their community has experienced prolonged multiple internal displacements over the years.

In Syria, the conflict has left 91 per cent of the 438,000 Palestine refugees estimated to remain in the country in absolute poverty and 40 per cent displaced. In 2020, living conditions deteriorated further as a result of an economic crisis fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to an increase in prices, including those of the most basic commodities.

In Lebanon and Jordan, Palestine refugees, including Palestine refugees from Syria (PRS), are also confronted with increased hardship and vulnerability, due to long-term displacement and difficult socio-economic conditions, coupled with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Lebanon, the economic and political crisis, which started in October 2019, continues to cause rising inflation, price increases and loss of employment opportunities, pushing more people into poverty. Through its Syria Regional Crisis Emergency Appeal, UNRWA is working to provide a protective environment for Palestine refugees by maintaining access to basic services, including health, education, livelihood opportunities, protection, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).

Before the conflict, the family lived very comfortably in Syria. They owned a home and were in good health and economic circumstances. Their stable reality was destroyed when the conflict in Syria erupted,  following peaceful demonstrations in March 2011. “Looking for security and safety was the reason why we fled Syria, I was very close to losing my youngest boy in an airstrike and we clearly saw this was not home anymore,” Asmaa recalls painfully. 

After a trip full of unimaginable trauma, the family managed to cross the border into Jordan and headed toward Asmaa’s sister’s home in Irbid. The family stayed with Asmaa’s sister for one year before they rented their own shelter in Nuzha, near Amman. UNRWA provided the family with cash assistance and health care to ease the countless challenges they continue to face. Mohammed – Asmaa’s husband- used to work as a painter, but a herniated disc prevents him from working. The family is fully dependent on the services provided by UNRWA. The couple’s three children now attend UNRWA schools, as well as psychosocial and mental health support programmes, to help on their path to recovery from the trauma they survived.

Being a refugee was never a choice. Today, ten years after the conflict in Syria began, 17, 800 Palestine refugees from Syria living in Jordan, like Asmaa and Mohammed, face unbelievable odds in search of peace and security. Many have lost friends, relatives, and parents. Others have displaced around the world, some of whom have lost contract with their loved ones, due to economic pressures.

Asmaa, too, had to leave someone behind – her 70 year–old mother.  “I wish I could see my mother and hope to reunite with my relatives one day.  It’s heartbreaking to know that my mother is living alone and we cannot do anything to support her,” Asmaa said.

In 2021, UNRWA requires US$ 318 million to respond to the humanitarian needs of Palestine refugees in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan through its Syria Regional Crisis Emergency Appeal. In addition to access to health care and education, this funding will provide 17,800 PRS in Jordan with life-saving cash assistance. This funding helps families like Asmaa navigate their continued displacement.