Ever Heard of Azraq Refugee Camp?

I’m in Amman airport just finishing up a whirlwind trip through the Middle East alongside Abdullah Snobar, the head of Ryerson University’s DMZ. With stops in Doha, Qatar, Nablus and Ramallah in the West Bank, and Amman, Jordan — all over the course of a short few days — you could say it’s been an action packed journey.

The trip was in large part motivated by our work towards launching an exciting new project. In collaboration with the DMZ and various other partners, as well as support from the Canadian government, Rumie technology is part of an emerging project for women’s empowerment in Amman.

Besides meeting those partners in Jordan, we explored new projects in the region with various NGO partners on the ground. We also had the chance to meet with the management team of WISE (the World Innovation Summit in Education) in Doha, as well as the Canadian Ambassadors in Qatar (Richard Norfolk) and Jordan (Peter MacDougall), and the Representative of Canada in the Palestinian Territories (Scott Proudfoot), all of whom offered support and insightful feedback on our planned work.

Another key goal of the trip was to explore growing Rumie’s work for Syrian refugees, which is already in Turkey and Lebanon. We wanted to develop a better on-the-ground knowledge of what’s happening in the region, and what’s been misunderstood.

For instance, everyone has heard of the trying conditions of the Za’atari Camp in Jordan, where over 80,000 Syrian refugees have settled with uncertain futures. But fewer have heard of the Azraq camp, another Jordanian desert-turned-encampment resulting from the Syrian refugee crisis. About 80 kilometers east of Amman with over 30,000 inhabitants, Azraq bears realities made all the more dark when forgotten in the shadow of Za’atari. We heard from many folks working on the ground in this space that the Azraq camp actually has worse conditions; it has serious problems with regular access to electricity, and connecting to the internet by anything other than a slow (e.g. 2G or 3G) cellular connection is pretty much impossible for the residents.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons for which Azraq hasn’t received as much attention. One Jordanian suggested to us that because locals relate better culturally to those from Southern Syria, the Za’atari camp has received more attention. Whatever the reason, celebrities like Liam Neeson, Angelina Jolie, and Naomi Campbell have visited the Za’atari camp. Meanwhile Azraq receives relatively sparse attention.

As we grow our work for Syrian refugees, a priority area for us at Rumie, we want to keep in mind that the growing refugee crisis is global. And this includes long-standing problems that haven’t been addressed. They can’t be forgotten simply because they’re not “new” or haven’t temporarily captured the public eye.

Public attention has a tendency to zero in on a few ‘highlight’ issues that catch widespread attention for a short time before getting distracted by the next big story (i.e what has Trump tweeted now).

After all, we heard an estimate that 80% of Syrian refugees in Jordan are not in the camps. I wasn’t aware of that before (who is?). Many live in the less affluent parts of East Amman, such as the area pictured above (one of many overcrowded slum-like areas expanding on the seven mountains surrounding Amman).

What I’ve witnessed here has reinforced a resolve to remember the less-remembered. For all of us working hard towards transformative social change, we should continually make sure we do the research on the ground, speak to the relevant locals, and focus our attention according to need, not the taste of the moment.

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