Thank You for Helping Tell the Stories of Syrian Refugees

Zaatari child

Dear friends and supporters of independent journalism, Thank you for your donation supporting my travels to the Jordanian border of Syria to interview victims of war. I set out to get a firsthand understanding of the regional complexities arising from this conflict and to put faces on the devastating statistics I was reading about daily. During the month I was there I met many resilient people who, still in the shadows of war, found ways to cope with tragedy and find joy in the company of others. I met people struggling with PTSD as well as others desperate and confused as the hope of a swift return home fades away into the dust and heat of the Za’atari refugee camp. I heard stories of houses, schools, and hospitals collapsing on people under heavy shelling in residential areas. People told me of long walks across Syria while under fire and the horrific fates encountered by many of their friends and family members who were unable to escape. I met teen boys quick to show me videos on their cellphones of their bloody experiences on the battlefield. I heard complaints about life inside Za’atari that—due to the lack of resources necessary for survival—included robbery, rape, organized crime, drug smuggling and the selling of young girls into early marriages. Inside the camp I witnessed the Jordanian government confiscating the Syrian’s IDs, which has essentially turned the camp into a prison. Crooked guards have been extorting refugees with the false promise that for a price of around $450US they can get their IDs back and leave. Some refugees utilize whatever means they can to come up with the cash. Then, after they pay, the guards drop them off outside the camp without their promised IDs; now undocumented, they cannot reenter Za’atari or receive any government aid outside. If they try to escape back into Syria they risk execution by Assad’s regime for defecting. It quickly became clear that the complexities of this crisis are vast and response from the International community, whether political or martial, will not lead to a resolution in the near future though is still imperative.

Jordan is the fourth driest country on earth. Due to the nearly 700,000 Syrians now in country, Jordan is running a 20% water deficit and has had to increase taxes and utility costs on citizens to try to deal with the problem as well as many other monetary concerns that have come in accordance to the rapid influx of people. Since 80% of the refugees are living outside of the camp, Jordan is also facing an unemployment rate nearing 20%, a number that is rising rapidly due to the illegal employment of undocumented workers. The only action taken by the US to aid this situation in Jordan, besides positioning 900 troops along the border and providing a missile defense system in Amman, has been to send an aid package to the Hashemite Kingdom. However, 360 million dollars of the billion-dollar package is for Jordan’s secret police, the Mukhabarat. The Mukhabarat was established by the C.I.A. to fight communism during the cold war. Today they are most known for their role in the so-called war on terror by detaining the majority of inmates held at Guantanamo bay. As of now one of their main objectives is to suppress media in Jordan as to hinder any sort of political uprising they fear could weaken the government and destabilize the region. So to be clear, the US is funding the suppression of the freedom of speech in the Middle East and letting sectarian divides and proxy interests fester.

As I started piecing my story together, I was advised by a contact within the Jordanian government to wait until I got back to the states before publishing. When I returned, I had a couple major publications seemingly interested; they strung me on for weeks. Then, when news of chemical weapons broke, I was told my story had become less “news worthy.” At the same time light profiles of Za’atari written by people much more famous than myself started to surface in those very publications. The news of the devastating chemical attacks drew the attention of the international community for a short time. Then, as all important issues due in our 24hr news cycle, the troubles in Syria seemed to not make the top list of international concerns, at least here in the United States. With Geneva II talks on the horizon photos from inside the Bashar’s Syrian prisons depicting the cruel execution and torture of over 11,000 people surfaced. Still, the notion that the talks will make any significant ground is doubtful.  Meanwhile, the US government has held the arms promised to the mostly secular Free Syrian Army (FSA) due to the influx of al-Qaeda affiliated groups such as the ISIS infiltrating Syria from Iraq. Our allies such as Saudi Arabia are actually providing funding for jihadist groups such as the ISIS. This has put the FSA in the position of being attacked by both the regime of Bashar Assad as well as foreign terrorist groups, while lacking the support to adequately stand their ground against either.

Over the past couple months I've been presenting my photos and speaking publicly in universities throughout Southern California about this issue. I wish to speak with all who will listen. Thank you immensely for the opportunities and experiences your support has granted me. From here I hope to pursue future endeavors through which I can demonstrate the importance of journalistic integrity and on-the-ground reporting. I also plan on utilizing my experiences to add substantial elements to future essays about war and international affairs.

Sincerely,

Deric Mendes