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Amid Syrian refugee relief, Christians and Muslims find fellowship

Banner syrian refugee and caritas jordan volunteer amer fahd al naser his wife noor and their sons at their apartment in jordan oct 27 2014 credit kevin jones cna cna 11 19 14

Syrian refugee and Caritas Jordan volunteer Amer Fahd Al Naser, his wife Noor and their sons at their apartment in Jordan, Oct. 27, 2014. Credit: Kevin Jones/CNA.

A Syrian Muslim refugee aided by the Catholic relief agency Caritas Jordan now volunteers to help other refugees, saying the agency staff makes him feel like “a brother.” “Being a volunteer in Caritas is an honor that I will take until death,” said Amer Fahd Al Naser, 38. “I’m really, really happy that I’m delivering the Caritas message, the Caritas Mission, as a Muslim.” He credits Caritas with helping him survive the difficulties of being a refugee. Al Naser now lives with his wife Noor, their two sons, his sister and his mother in an apartment in the Jordanian city of Al Zarqa. It was not always this way. Al Naser keeps on his cell phone a video of his neighborhood in Homs, Syria. It shows desolated buildings with walls blown out by explosions. The streets are lined with drab rubble. “This district used to have 200,000 persons. Now no one is here,” he told CNA and a group of reporters Oct. 27. His home district was a center of opposition to President Bashar Al Assad. It became the target of military action in 2011 after a violent crackdown on anti-government protests spiraled into a major conflict that has killed over 191,000 and displaced millions of people from their homes. Al Naser and his family fled the home where had been born. They went first to Damascus, where they stayed in the Palestinian refugee camp Yermouk. “Even in the camp, we had bombs as well,” he said. He and his family moved to Jordan in September 2012. Al Naser, a former freelance real estate rental agent, has few prospects. Though Jordan accepts hundreds of thousands of refugees, it bars most of them from work by law. “Jordan has welcomed us and hosted us and everything, but they can’t do more, because they are poor. They can’t do more. So this is it,” he said, worrying that his children will be among “a whole generation that is being lost.” “Psychology wise, I’m not zero. I’m negative one million,” Al Naser said. In his view, the situation of Syrian refugees in Jordan is “bad going towards worse.” He fears that U.N. aid relief will be cut off. He has thought of returning home alone to try to support his family. “We have a vague future. I don’t know anything. I don’t know what will happen.” Both he and his wife miss their home. “Everything is more delicious in Syria,” Noor said. “Who wouldn’t wish to go back to his homeland?” Al Naser asked. “But in this situation, it’s impossible. My wife, my children, they are in danger. No, it’s impossible.” “I have relatives back in Homs, and they are under siege. They cannot leave,” he said. “The situation is really dangerous.” Two months after he arrived in Jordan, Al Naser approached an assistance center in Al Zarqa run by Caritas Jordan – the local affiliate of the international Catholic humanitarian agency Caritas. There, he received life skills training in English, computer skills, psychology and first aid. After this coursework, he became a volunteer at the recommendation of a Caritas staff member. “Without her, maybe I’m dead now,” he said. “I would be in Syria, and who knows in Syria if I would be alive?” He first manned the complaint desk until a supervisor realized that he would be better placed in a front position receiving Syrian refugees, many of whom are deeply frustrated by barriers to securing assistance and the barriers to work. “My job is to absorb their anger,” he said. “When they see that I’m Syrian, they will calm down. It will be a welcoming atmosphere… I’m a Syrian. I’m the closer one to feel the suffering of the Syrian.” Al Naser works at a Caritas center that provides health care, dental care and psychological counseling, as well as life skills training and humanitarian assistance. About 300 to 350 people visit the center each day. The work has the support of many groups, including the U.S.-based Catholic Relief Services. About 90 percent of Caritas Jordan beneficiaries are Muslim. They include Jordanians, Syrians, Egyptians, Iraqis, Somalis and Tunisians. Al Naser emphasized the friendship and support he has felt at the Caritas Jordan center. “Even the director of Caritas, he came and told me he’s my brother,” he said, adding: “he is like me, he makes me feel ‘you are my brother’.” “When he comes to visit the center, he comes to me and embraces me and tells me ‘do you need anything? Are you okay?’ This person is a true Caritas person.” Al Naser said the fraternal feeling is mutual, explaining, “I am a brother for any Christian.” Like many Syrians, he cannot understand how his country turned so violent. “We lived peacefully before. We never knew anything about killing,” he said. “But now, we don’t know anything. Why is this killing happening? There is no reason.” “Unfortunately, the value of the Syrian person has become cheap. In all the world, especially in the Arab world, after the war,” he said. Over 1.4 million Syrian refugees are believed to be in Jordan, a country whose total population is only 7.9 million. “I assume personally that the destination of the Syrian people will be as the Palestinians,” Al Naser said. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees and millions of their descendants are still in need decades after fleeing the conflicts surrounding the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Al Naser has not only experienced the trauma of losing his home. As a relief agency volunteer, he hears of the plight of many more refugees. “They approach me and they tell me their stories and I start crying, unconsciously. Certain cases really make me cry.” He cited the case of a Syrian woman, a mother of four children ranging in age from one to eight years old whose husband died in Syria. The woman had leukemia. She approached a Caritas Jordan center in a “really, really bad” situation. Al Naser brought her case to the attention of the center supervisor, but when the center called up, she had died. The children now live with their aunt. He said the situation in Syria is “going to hell,” given the emergence of the Islamic State group and other unknown groups. “We don’t know why they came to our country, we don’t know. People who had their revolution said we need freedom. But those groups that came, what do they want? Groups from Pakistan, the Gulf… what do they want from Syria? We had problems with our regime. What do they have to do with this?” He said that even if peace were reached tomorrow, it would take another five years for the tensions to subside enough that people would feel safe to return. “Volunteering is the only thing that makes me feel better,” Al Naser reiterated. “Without Caritas I would already have gone back to Homs.”  

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