Text and interview by Maria AB

Khaled Al-Shaka works in Jordan giving legal aid in an NGO. After work, he runs a community-based organization in Jerash Camp, locally known as Gaza Camp, one of the 13 Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan.

Jerash Camp was first built in 1968 for the 11,500 people who had fled the Gaza strip.

Illustration of refugee camp my Michael Robinson
illustration by Michael Robinson

“It started as tented settlements, and people thought they would go back home. But years passed, buildings started being built, and now we have a very unorganized and underserviced camp. I don’t like using these words, but physically, Jerash is more like a slum or a ghetto than a camp.” 

According to Khaled, 35 000 people live in the camp. “There are families of 8 people living in 80 or 90 m² homes, and some are even smaller and more crowded. How can people be quarantined, or in social isolation in these spaces? They cannot”, Khaled says.

Dear Brother,

The new sanctions and restrictions worsen the conditions of the people in the camps. People in the camps live on daily wages, and if they cannot work they cannot secure their daily food.

Many have been affected, especially workers that rely on daily labor, such as agricultural workers, small shopkeepers, and barbers. Only very few people in the camp can rely on receiving a monthly salary.

Testimonial from a person in Jerash Camp, translation from Arabic by Khaoula Houssini

“People are aware of the situation and try to do what they can. They are organizing themselves to get food and they create schedules between themselves of who goes out and doesn’t. But there are bigger fears in these communities than the virus.” Many need to keep on working on what they can, in the way they can, or they’ll be left with no source of income. “To quarantine, or not to eat?” 

“Asking someone to not work on a day, is asking someone not to earn their living. It is asking them not to have necessities such as food for themselves and their families.”

Families in the camp have eight members on average. If there is no work for seven days, there is no income for these families for seven days. This makes families unable to support themselves and to provide the most basic needs for children and vulnerable family members.  

The situation is getting worse and more dangerous every hour, and it is reported that many families are not able to secure basic food and drink for themselves.

Testimonial from a person in Jerash Camp, translation from Arabic by Khaoula Houssini

The capacity to respond to the refugees’ healthcare needs was already limited before COVID-19. “The only health center in the camp is a basic healthcare center, not suited for any treatment.” Jerash is a 30-minute drive to the nearest hospital and getting an ambulance is not an easy task. “It’s a huge issue to get an ambulance, the alleys, narrow streets, and dead-ends in the camp make it very difficult for an ambulance to enter.”

Not all students in the camp have the means to access online classes, because there is no internet coverage in the camps except on the phone of the head of the family, and the tents are small so they don’t provide the ideal environment for studying.  

Institutions and the government provide online classes, but the students that can follow them are very few. Some high school students are trying to continue studying online, or through television programs and private classes in the camps. The limited access to educational resources is a real problem.  

Testimonial from a person in Jerash Camp, translation from Arabic by Khaoula Houssini

Khaled’s CBO, Sama Gaza, is helping people in Palestinian refugee camps with basic needs through their “One Love” initiative. So far they have gathered volunteers to bring disinfectant and food packages to help over 2000 families in Palestinian refugee camps. Their target is to reach 5000 families.

Click here if you would like to support the One Love initiative and Sama Gaza CBO.