Return To The Baqaa Refugee Camp

A few weeks after the Ramadan visit to the Baqaa (Bag3a) Palestinian refugee camp, the Action Committee returned to help out a family in need. The father is of Syrian decent and operates a ka3k trolley, which essentially means he walks around all day making cheap sandwiches. His wife is Jordanian and is deaf. Together they have nine children, two of whom are young twins. One of their baby girls had been playing with matches that eventually started an electrical fire, which spread fairly quickly through the home. Luckily, no one was hurt but all their belongings were burnt to a crisp. The house is in “okay” shape, considering that pretty much all housing structures in the country are made of concrete blocks and cement. However, since this is the Bag3a and the makeshift “roofs” are made entirely of aluminum sheets, the lumber that holds them is now crumbling from the fire. This is to say nothing of the shattered windows and twisted doors.

“Thank God for the fire department,” the father told me, “it took them 5 minutes to get here and put it out before it did any more damage.” Fortunately the family lives within the souk (market) area as opposed to being right in the middle of the camp along with the majority of the homes that line the narrow rubble streets. However the uncle said it didn’t matter where they lived: “you could be anywhere in the camp and the fire department will be there in 5 minutes. They might be the only good thing in the whole camp”. Ironically, on our way there, we heard there was a second house that had caught fire in the camp recently but unfortunately we couldn’t find it. Apparently, fires are fairly common here and only begin to increase as the winter season takes hold; a time of the year when cheap gas heaters can do a lot of tragic damage.

What was interesting about this case was that the family was technically Syrian, even though they live in a Palestinian refugee camp. This means they don’t get the same services as their Palestinian counterparts, specifically health services. They have to rely on paying pricey doctors cash, whereas Palestinians – who carry Jordanian citizenships and qualify for UN refugee status – receive mainly free services through government and UNRWA clinics. The sad irony however is that the Syrian father has been living in the camp since the early 1980’s, with his father settling in Jordan since the turn of the 20th century.

Upon hearing of the story the Action Committee started an emergancy fundraising campaign on October 28th, to raise some money and gather essential supplies. Within four days the response was incredible. The committee collected everything from mattresses to blankets, pillows, utensils, food, clothes, toys and a whole lot more. There was just too much stuff to distribute to just one family, so a lot was left over for another visit and another family. We actually had to use a truck instead of the pickups.

From personal experience I would have to say this was one of the most touching stories I’ve heard. But seeing it, hearing the story from the mouths of the family, touching the black burnt walls of their rooms, that is a whole other experience all together. I suppose, in a way, a house on fire in the Bag3a camp is a metaphor for the terrible conditions of this camp and all refugee camps in general. Everyone seems to be hanging on to the hope of one day returning to a homeland they’ve never seen. It’s a sentiment that’s reflected in the eyes of everyone from the refugees to the activists and diplomats who see integration as the straw breaking the camel’s back when it comes to fighting for the right of return.

Indeed, the response from the (mostly online) community was just as overwhelming. Sara got plenty of emails and calls from various people who heard about the story through the Facebook group (which is really growing) and the Jordanian blogs that brought it to the attention of their readers. It was nice to hear Sara name some familiar names from the blogosphere of the people who contacted her, and meet some interesting people at the Thursday collection point. A lot of people wanted to join us on the trip to the camp but unfortunately space was limited. Nevertheless, it was interesting to note the many people who wanted to know how they could participate more actively – beyond just donations – and how many of those people were in their 20’s.

That being said, a big thank you to everyone who helped with the contributions, especially readers of the Black Iris who emailed me or messaged me on Facebook to find out how they could help. I’m fortunate and grateful to have that kind of readership.

+ For more photos, check out the Ikbis album
+ For more information on the Action Committee, join the Facebook group
+ Originally published on 7iber dot com; reposted here with some modifications by the author.


  • At times like this, I really wish I live in Jordan – not Dubai. Everything is so plastic here, ugh! Great job, keep it up Nas!

  • I just love what you are doing. I am a bit uncomfortable with the photos of the family in question and the issue of the dignity of the poor. It’s a tough call. you need to show people what’s wrong to motivate them into action. I don’t have an answer. But keep doing what you are doing and I hope more people will follow your lead.

  • Alhamdulillah. A sister called me today (Saturday) looking for Sara out at Safeway, she had gotten the day wrong. I told her to drop the stuff at my home this week and inshAllah we will get the stuff to you for other camps. InshAllah khair.

  • Great effort, Nas! Glad they are all fine πŸ™‚

    I cannot help but comment: Are people still having that many kids without taking into consideration their financial situation and even their health conditions? They have nine kids. They could afford a better life for their kids had they been four for example. I am sure most people living in the same area would have kids within the same number range.

  • Salaam ‘Alaikum

    I am glad to see the photos, so that what we did last week can be connected to real people (for those of us who couldn’t go). I can also show this to those who donated so that they can see that their donations are, insha’Allah, making a difference.

    Since news of this family came out, I have heard a few people question their choice to have “so many children.” This is naseeb. Perhaps they are of a school of thought that prohibits birth control, or perhaps they don’t have access or education on the issue. The children are here, they are living, so rather than question their existence (audhu billah), let’s just do what we can for them now. No one has to like how another exercises it, but it is still a right most people have to decide how many children to have (or not have).

  • The Action Committee’s power to bring out the good in people is really admirable, you guys should be proud of yourselves… I don’t think many people would’ve heard of that incident (Tragedy would be the word) if it wasn’t for the committee’s campaign, keep it up!

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