Syrian Refugees and Jordanians Coming Together Through the Arts

  • Luke Waggoner

In early September, IRI brought Syrian refugees together with their new Jordanian hosts to build community and share common experiences as well as mutual challenges.

Mafraq is one of Jordan’s biggest counties making up the entire northeast arm of the country. It shares borders with Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia making it particularly susceptible to large influxes of migrants as the Middle East’s tumultuous trajectory has forced millions to leave Iraq and now Syria. These large arrivals of refugees have caused significant strain on Jordan’s already limited resources. Because Jordan is limited in its capacity to absorb these new individuals, the conditions in which many Syrian refugees are living are fraught with significant challenges. Recognizing the challenges placed on both the refugees and the communities receiving them, IRI began a project—funded by the National Endowment for Democracy—to understand and alleviate the points of tension between these two communities.

IRI’s conflict management program is designed to identify drivers of conflict in Mafraq County through dialogue and planning with individuals from traditionally opposing communities to find agreed upon solutions. Once the primary conflict was identified (migration and refugee resettlement), IRI convened Syrian refugees, Jordanian community leaders in Mafraq, and Mafraq County government officials separately to discuss their primary concerns about the county’s challenges. Once the concerns were identified, IRI reconvened the groups to discuss possible solutions to the problems they identified. IRI then identified the overlapping issues and solutions, brought all three groups together, and had the groups develop targeted, detailed action plans to alleviate shared concerns among the three groups. The culminating event of this project happened in early September when all three groups and other members of each community came together to share their action plans with the community, discuss solutions, and enjoy a range of activities in one of Mafraq’s public parks.

Over 300 Syrian and Jordanian men, women, and children came together to share stories, crafts, and even play soccer. The mayor of Mafraq attended and heard directly from Syrian refugees who expressed their gratitude for being welcomed into Mafraq. Ms. Asma’a Mansour, a Syrian refugee living in Mafraq Governorate, said “I am Syrian and I am proud to be wearing the Jordanian Shmagh [scarf].” She thanked the Jordanian community for being generous hosts and standing by Syrians in such a difficult time. Jordanians “never made us feel like strangers here,” she said.

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