Mohammad explained how refugee camps were not as great as one might think. Refugees were not able to get out of the camp without a sponsor or work permit (both of which were really expensive!). As Mohammad put it, ‘life in camps is a lot like prison’. When I asked why, he explained.
Syrians fled their country because it was either that or getting killed. However, once crossing the border, the Jordanian government puts great hurdles (financially) in obtaining a work permit. Mohammad describes how he saw fellow Syrian brothers and sisters feeling trapped in the camps where there was no scope to work, there were no schools for the children and no one could go out of the camp. With hundreds of thousands of individuals sleeping and living in a small area and feeling trapped, this increases social problems. Mohammad elaborated that for the individuals who were able to obtain a work permit, getting jobs was harder as he found that the Jordanian society was not welcoming. Thus with no job, it was hard for these refugees to sustain their lives. For those working illegally in Jordan, it felt like a sword was hanging over their heads because if caught, then they would be deported back to Syria which to them was equivalent to dying.
Then I asked Mohammad that how did he come to Canada. He explained how the UN has a refugee database, as refugees have to apply to get the refugee status. The UN selected the Alsahoud family from its database, informing them that they had been accepted to be transferred to Canada. They were asked whether they agree and they said yes. Afterwards the Canadian embassy called them, asking various questions in an interview such as what Mohammad did in Syria, his background. This entire process took seven months. Finally, in May 2015, the Alsahoud family boarded the plane to Canada.
At this point in the interview, Mrs. Alsahoud comes in asking us to join for lunch. I looked at the watch and couldn’t believe that almost 2 hours had gone by. I saw halfway through the interview how Mrs. Alsahoud got up and went to the kitchen. But I didn’t realize that she was making a feast! It was my first time having Syrian cuisine and it was a delight! I had a Syrian version of hummus and it was quite delicious. Being an international student myself, it had been a long time since I sat with a family and ate a meal. Sitting with the Alsahouds, having food cooked by a mother’s hand, it kind of made me homesick and miss my mum .
Over lunch, we talked about life under the Assad regime and Mohammad explained how nepotism was pervasive. Bashar Al-Assad belonged to the Baath Party, a political party in Syria. He belonged to the Alawite minority . Thus these two groups got more preference. Mohammad had been in the army for 5 years. When he applied for a position in the army for which he was trained, he didn’t get it despite being one of the top candidates. The position was given to an individual from the Alawite sect. Things such as this was quite common. Merit and talent was not always valued; rather what was valued is whether you were from the Baath Party or the Alawite sect. Mohammad explained how Assad didn’t feel he was accountable to his people. During the 80s, in the middle of the night, some people came to his house and took his brother with them. The next morning, he went to the army office and asked about this. They asked him how did he know it was the army. Mohammad replied how he was in the army and knew that it was their car. The only reply the office gave was, ‘yes we took him but you don’t need to know why’. Since then, Mohammad hasn’t seen his brother.