What it means to be a refugee

I thought a lot about this letter before I sat down to write it. Where to start, when to start, and many other questions came to my mind. Then, I decided to start from the point when I realized that I was a refugee, living in a refugee camp.

I grew up in the Baqa’a Refugee Camp in Jordan, and I still live there today. Baqa'a Camp was one of six emergency camps set up in 1968 to accommodate Palestine refugees and displaced people who left the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a result of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

When I started attending primary school, it was the first time I was surrounded by other children who were not my family. It opened my eyes to the fact that other children lived differently than me, and that I was living in place where I was not equal.

At that young age, I didn’t understand what a refugee camp was or why I had to live there. I didn’t understand what the label “refugee” really meant.

As time went by, I understood more and more that being a refugee means you left your home by force and you live in a place where people who have no choices must live.

The labels of “refugee” and “refugee camp” have followed me all my life. Because of this, I’ve worked extra hard to define myself beyond these labels. To make something of myself. To be defined beyond a place full of poverty and hardness, where people are almost forgotten.

And I’m not alone in this. Despite all the forces working against us, most of us youth living in Baqa’a Camp finish our secondary school and go on to university in Jordan.

2011 was the beginning of the Syria Crisis. In the following years, hundreds of thousands of people would lose their homes, families, and lives. Many of my Syrian friends were thinking about leaving Syria to find peace and safety.

Knowing what it means to be a refugee – I begged them not to leave their home. But the crisis worsened by the day. And eventually they had no choice but to leave.

2017 was my first experience working directly with Syrian refugees in the Azraq Refugee Camp in Jordan. And in 2019, I began work in the Za’atari Refugee Camp with Questscope (pictured with the team, below).

Meeting these new refugees day after day, being close to their pain, witnessing the challenges they face, and hearing the stories of what their lives once were and what they are now is hard.

I can feel their pain. I can see it. I can touch it on their faces. I can feel it in their souls and in their dreams. And in the simple needs the refugees ask for in the camps.

I know the difficulties, the anger, and the hopelessness that living in a refugee camp brings. I have a unique insight into the hearts and minds of the Syrian refugees we work alongside, because I’m a refugee, too.

I also have a unique insight into how much of a difference the support given to refugees makes in our lives. Without it, we would never have the chance to face the reality of our situation and muster the hope, will, and opportunity to seek a better life.

From a refugee living in a refugee camp who works with other refugees in another refugee camp – I say thank you to all of the people, communities, and organizations who step forward and say to us, “We are here, and you are not forgotten!

We are refugees, but we are human beings first.

— Hanan, Coordinator in Za'atari Refugee Camp