David Brunetti shares with us his reflective portrait series of Syrian refugees who’ve settled in urban areas of Jordan.“Dreaming of Syria is a glimpse into the emotional state of refugees who have fled civil war at home only to find a permanent state of suspense abroad. Boredom, fear, anxiety, depression, worry, but also resilience and fortitude are revealed in this portrait-driven and contemplative project. It invites the viewer to consider the ramifications of the decision taken by these Syrians to leave their homes because, with no end in sight to the violence, their flight is indicative of a potentially permanent population shift reminiscent of the Palestinian crises of ’48 and ’67. This is just the end of the beginning; the expectation is for things to get worse.The violence in Syria has created the greatest refugee crisis in 20 years. UNHCR has identified two million people in need of protection as a result of the war. Five hundred thousand Syrians are currently living in Jordan. Its largest refugee camp, Zaatari, which opened only last year and was built to accommodate 60,000 people now hosts 144,000 refugees. Today Zaatari is Jordan’s fourth largest city. As staggering as this is, sadly it’s only half the story, because the vast majority of displaced Syrians don’t live in refugee camps, but in villages, cities, and towns.Countless civilians have fled the conflict for the relative safety of neighbouring host countries. They’ve taken the risk to leave for an uncertain future abroad. And although they might have escaped civil war, when they cross the border, refugees face a host of new challenges.The refugee crisis in urban areas is far less visible, but no less serious than in the camps. Many urban refugees are living in unheated or unfurnished apartments, garages, or tents, which are often overcrowded. Many families are facing increased debt as they struggle to pay for soaring rent and rising costs of food, water, and other basic essentials. With no access to income, their problems will only multiply. Families are already running out of money for rent and other essentials. Many will be forced to desperate measures to get by. Some families have already adopted negative coping strategies, including illegal low-paying work, reducing the number of daily meals, child labour, begging, and transactional sex.
Reem and Noor are sisters-in-law who share this bare two-room apartment with their extended family. The family is struggling to make ends meet with the cash assistance and food coupons they receive from UNHCR. But they are glad that their young children are now safe.
Many Syrians feel abandoned by the international community, because urban refugees are not seen as a priority even though 75% of refugees live outside camps. They can sense the growing suspicion of their new neighbours, knowing that their sheer presence puts a strain on Jordanian society at large. The constant worry about financial insecurity and the resentment of their neighbours adds psychological stress to families. Sometimes the daily struggle to get by in Jordan is so overwhelming that they make the heartbreaking decision to return to a war-torn Syria. They return to a country where they feared for their lives because the bare existence as a refugee was unbearable itself.”