From Jordan with love: ‘Syrians are our brothers, but …’

By: Mona Abdel-Fadil, Senior researcher, Fafo AIS (

I’ve just returned from two weeks intensive fieldwork in Jordan. I am struck by one very strong sentiment amongst the Jordanians I spoke with: ‘Syrians are our brothers, but…’ It is a signal of ambiguity. It is honest. It is transparent. Of course there is a ‘but’. Yet, I am somewhat surprised at how obvious it was. Naked. Blatant.

The humanitarian situation for Syrians in their homeland is becoming more difficult by the day, and waves of Syrian displaced are crossing the Jordanian border. Whereas two weeks ago roughly 1000 Syrians crossed a day, for the last few days numbers have allegedly tripled.

Most Jordanians I spoke to undoubtedly expressed empathy with the plight of Syrians. They articulate that assisting Syrians goes without question. In their own words: ‘it is Hashemite hospitality’, ‘they are our guests’, ‘they are our brothers’ and ‘May God put an end to their agony’. Yet, the most fascinating thing for me was how ambiguities also quickly surfaced, ‘they are our brothers, but …’ .

Yet, the most fascinating thing for me was how ambiguities also quickly surfaced, ‘they are our brothers, but …’ .

This ‘but’, could at times trail off into nothingness, but more frequently an animated string of words could follow: ‘We have our own problems’,  ‘Look at our economic problems!’, ‘We have high levels of unemployment!’, ‘We are a small nation!’, etc.  Yet, of the most salient and frequently heard complaints is “the Syrian poor get help from international NGOs but what about the Jordanian poor?!’. This is a common sentiment not just amongst the ‘ordinary’ people, but also amongst NGO’s providing assistance to Syrians.

Several NGO managers stress that it is highly unfortunate that some international donors only provide poverty relief assistance to Syrian displaced.

The criticism is not only directed to Western countries but also to Arab funders.

Such differentiation creates envy, and seems unfair to the Jordanian poor. Or rather, not only does it seem unfair, in the words of more than one NGO-employee: ‘It is unfair’. I am told that this envy sometimes manifests itself in ruptures of violence or vandalism on the part of the disempowered poor Jordanians, or may even erupt into clashes between Jordanians and Syrians.

In eloquent terms, several Jordanians I spoke to, expressed how it may be highly detrimental to the spirit of empathy to help only one targeted group, when their next-door neighbours may be suffering equally. (At least in terms of poverty).

Indeed, the prevailing sentiment is: if Jordanians are to continue doing the ‘honourable thing’, keeping their borders open to ‘Syrian guests and brothers’, then an increase in projects that seek to jointly benefit Jordanians and Syrians would be a most welcome incentive. I will convey more from the perspective(s) of Syrian displaced in my next blog post. As for this blog entry and its conclusion, it can be summed up as follows:

If there is one message from Jordanians to be echoed out into the world, it is: ‘Syrians are our brothers, but help us too!’ – From Jordan with love.