“I could not live without hope. I try to draw that from history, and from small acts of simple kindness that remind me that people did not always live with such animosity of one another.”
Nikol Awwad is Lebanese-American and has been working for Jafra since 2014. Jafra Foundation is a civil society organization that was originally a youth development organization, started inside Yarmouk Camp for Palestinian Refugees in Damascus, Syria. Since the beginning of the conflict, Jafra has supplied humanitarian aid, livelihood training and support to Palestinian Refugees within Syria.
What are the issues facing Palestinian refugees in Syria and those who are now displaced to Lebanon?
Palestinians living inside of the war are experiencing the conflict in the same way Syrians are, but there is no legal or political representation or protection for them. Prior to the conflict Palestinians were provided more legal rights in Syria than in any other Arab country. Now, no one is working to make sure their legal rights will be maintained. The rest of the world’s refugees are registered with the UNHCR [United Nations High Commission for Refugees], which has a protection and resettlement mandate, but Palestinian refugees have been left alone by the international community without protection and with no agency working on lasting solutions. Many of their camps have been demolished. These Palestinian spaces in Syria, where people built their lives after being displaced from their homeland and have lived in for years, will no longer be their home. Now they will have nowhere to go.
What is needed for Palestinian-Syrians to establish those ‘spaces’?
Palestinians need to be represented at the peace negotiation table, not to decide what will happen in Syria—but to decide what their own fate will be. All sides of the conflict need to be pressured to end the violence in and around Palestinian spaces. That’s why the story of Khan Eshieh Camp near Damascus is particularly inspiring. The Palestinians there have succeeded in preventing the conflict from entering the camp. Forcibly displacing camp residents undermines any peace that exists. Any kind of nonviolent, civil society movement that already exists in Syria should be kept intact.
What is happening at Camp Khan Eshieh?
The people living in Camp Khan Eshieh have managed to keep all armed elements out of the camp since the beginning of the conflict. This really shows the power of Palestinian people. They struggle to survive, with aerial bombardment raining on them daily. Women inside of Khan Eshieh have been instrumental in the same ways that women worldwide are instrumental to any community. They grow food when seeds are available, they teach children inside the siege. Many have worked to replace the income that their husbands, fathers, and brothers would make if they were not injured, arrested or killed during the conflict period. And in addition, they find a way to resist violence and organize themselves.
The people in these camps are considered ‘stateless.’ What does that mean to individual families?
I recently asked people what it means to be stateless, and one response that stood out was, “We can build our homes and we can build our social networks but even if I want to start a life, I can’t. Because legally I am not allowed to live here, and legally I can’t own land and can’t work.” For me, this is the meaning of statelessness: complete and total uncertainty, an inability to build any future and no legal protections.
What motivates you in your work?
My fate as an individual is bound up in the history of all the people all across the world. Someday my children’s fate will be as well. Syria is a good example of this, with the effect of war there rippling across Europe and ringing in the ears of Americans and Canadians. We all have an obligation—to others, ourselves and to history—to work to the best of our ability to see that war, terror and hunger no longer exist.
Visit the Jafra Foundation’s website.
Read about Yarmouk and Khan Eshieh camps.