Syrians Scrape a Living in Jordan (1 of 3)

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As Syria’s civil war enters its fifth year, nine million people have been displaced, with 3.7 million of those having fled the country. Millions of Syrian refugees are scraping by in neighboring countries.

Jordan has registered 600,000 refugees – constituting almost 10% of the Hashemite Kingdom’s total population of 6.6 million, though the actual number may be much higher. One fifth now live in refugee camps, including Za'atari camp, the second largest in the world. It's illegal for them to leave Jordan's now overcrowded and increasingly insecure refugee camps, but many are now making the leap to urban areas, seeking work and a better life. Some Syrian families who fled to Jordan at the start of the war are fairing better than others who've arrived more recently. But they’re still struggling to survive beyond the camps, without enough allowance from the UN nor local charities to pay for food and medical care, or taking their chances with working illegally.

Despite not being legally entitled to work, many have taken up jobs at local shops at the discretion of Jordanian employers, while others are too afraid to leave their homes and are surviving on as little as 13 dinars ($18) per person per month from the UN.

A recent UNHCR urban report, entitled ‘Living in the Shadows’ in January this year, based on 150,000 Syrian refugees living outside of Jordan’s camps, concluded that two thirds of the refugees now in urban areas are living below Jordan’s poverty line. 1/6 are living in abject poverty barely surviving off the equivalent of 1.3 dollars per person per day. The UN has expressed grave concern that refugees are now turning desperate measures to make ends meet, with children dropping out of school and even women turning to prostitution.

This is the ancient Jordanian city of Jerash, 50 kilometres north of the capital Amman. It’s now home to approximately 8,000 Syrian refugee families / 50,000 refugees.

34-year-old Ali and his younger brother Mohammed work shifts at a local coffee and tea shop. Living as refugees has put a huge strain on Ali's marriage, and he is now separated from his wife, and rarely gets to see his young son. He says they used to live in Al Midan, an affluent Sunni suburb of Syria’s capital Damascus. But when fighting between the Assad government forces and Syrian rebels began in their neighborhood, the family took the heart-wrenching decision to prepare to leave the country. Being the eldest, Ali headed to Jordan first to set things up for the rest of the family. Mohammed and his parents followed after.

The brothers live with their mother Yusra, who warmly invites us into their two-bedroom one-floor home. Yusra was recently widowed. Their father died of health complications shortly after joining them in Jordan. They know how terrible the living conditions are for those now living in Jordan’s over-crowded refugee camps. They tell us they consider themselves among the luckier refugees, who arrived in Jordan almost four years ago at the start of the conflict, having found work and a place to live.

Jordanian shop owner Khaled says he hired the brothers not only because Syrians will work for a lower wage, but also because he wants to help the refugees who are desperately seeking work. He says the Jordanian authorities are fairly lax when it comes to illegal refugee workers. He says all Arabs are brothers, and need to help Syrians until its safe enough for them to return home.

We chose to focus the interview on the elder brother – Ali
Their mother, Yusra, did not want us to film her face


  1. Shot # Location Vision SOT/ interview content 1 Outskirts of Jerash Boy with bicycle 2 Outskirts of Jerash Boys playing football 3 Outskirts of Jerash Men walking up hill 4 Jerash Couple in street 5 Jerash Shop front candy 6 Jerash vetables 7 Jerash Fruit on back of truck 8 Jerash Woman crossing road 9 Jerash People in the street 10 Jerash Ali silhouette inside coffee shop 11 Jerash Ali selling pack of cigarettes 12 Jerash Teenagers outside shop 13 Jerash Overshoulder shot Ali stirring coffee 14 Jerash Ali making coffee 15 Jerash Ali Giving customer change 16 Jerash Ali stirring coffee 17 Jerash Ali checking gas flame underneath 18 Jerash Ali adding coffee to finjan 19 Jerash Close-up cigarettes on shelves 20 Jerash Close up paper cups 21 Jerash Ali selling more cigarettes 22 Jerash Ali pouring more coffee 23 Jerash Close up Ali stirring more coffee 24 Jerash Mid-shot Ali between water heaters 25 Jerash Mid-shot Ali between water heaters 26 Jerash Over-shoulder Ali with customers 27 Jerash Wide shot Ali silhouette in shop again 28 Jerash Ali mid-shot sitting down 29 Jerash Ali close up 30 Jerash Ali close up 31 Jerash Close-up of phone screen, Ali showing photos of his baby son 32 Jerash Close-up of phone screen, Ali showing photos of his baby son 33 Jerash Mid shot Ali looking at photos on his phone 34 Jerash INTERVIEW Ali close-up My wife didn’t like the house, so she moved in with her parents. My life is mostly with my mother and brother 35 Jerash Ali close-up interview I get to see my son once of twice every three to four months 36 Jerash Currently here in Jordan I’m trying to improve my situation. What I have in mind is to stay in Jordan for ten to fifteen years until we go back to Syria. In Syria the financial situation was good. We had houses and business and the situation was good. 37 Jerash Jerash We came here with one hand in front and one hand behind. Thanks be to God, I’m trying to improve my situation as much as I can. And to take care of my work. If I do that, my work will take care of me. This is why I’m trying, as long as I have the ability and motivation to consider this place my own, and not to just consider myself a worker. 38 Jerash I hope that all Muslims would be as one and that all the problems would end, because it’s all separating the Arabs from one another. It happened a lot during the time of the Prophet, and they didn’t manage to separate them 39 Jerash We used to get 24, but then they changed it to 13 dinars. That’s the only aid we got from four years ago until now 40 Jerash There’s several associations here that wouldn’t help us, even though they receive the money to help 41 Jerash Close-up Ali crying, asks us to stop interview for a moment 42 Jerash Close-up Ali crying 43 Jerash Profile Ali crying 44 Jerash Close up Ali’s hands 45 Jerash Very close-up Ali face 46 Jerash mid shot Ali 47 Jerash Clouse up Ali, cigarette packs behind 48 Jerash Mid shot Ali outside his house 49 Jerash Rear view Ali walking 50 Jerash Ali at apartment 51 Jerash Ali taking off his shoes and entering apt. 52 Jerash – inside apartment Wide shot Ali’s brother Mohammed standing in prayer 53 Jerash – inside apartment Close up Mohammed in prayer 54 Jerash – inside apartment Over shoulder high up shot Mohammed on prayer rug 55 Jerash – inside apartment Mid shot Mohammed folding prayer rug 56 Jerash – inside apartment Close up Mohammed’s hands 57 Jerash – inside apartment Profile mid-shot Mohammed sitting during interview 58 Jerash – inside apartment mid shot Mohammed profile 59 Jerash – inside apartment mid shot front, Mohammed sitting on futon 60 Jerash – inside apartment Mid shot Yusra, the mother, walking into kitchen 61 Jerash – inside apartment Overhead shot Yusra pouring water 62 Jerash – inside apartment mid-shot Yusra boiling water 63 Jerash – inside apartment Ground shot Yusra’s skirt, feet, walking on kitchen floor 64 Jerash – inside apartment Close-up yusra puts cups on tray 65 Jerash – inside apartment Close-up of coffee pot on flame 66 Jerash – inside apartment Wide shot through door Yusra walking across kitchen 67 Jerash – inside apartment Jordanian flag through window 68 Jerash – inside apartment mid-shot of both brothers sitting on futon talking 69 Jerash – inside apartment Over-shoulder Ali, shot of Mohammed talking 70 Jerash – inside apartment Close-up pan Mohammed’s face to Ali 71 Jerash – inside apartment Overshoulder of Yusra, wide shot brothers sitting on futon 72 Jerash – inside apartment Over shoulder Mohammed, Ali talking 73 Jerash – inside apartment Mid shot Ali opening fridge 74 Jerash – inside apartment Rear view, Yusra and Mohammed at kitchen sink 75 Jerash – inside apartment Close-up pouring cocoa powder into cup 76 Jerash – inside apartment Jerash – inside apartment Overshoulder Ali opening cupboard 77 Jerash – inside apartment Close-up profile Ali, Mohammed in background 78 Jerash – inside apartment Shot of patterned carpet in kitchen 79 Jerash – inside apartment Ground shot of slippers, feet in kitchen 80 Jerash – inside apartment Wide shot Mohammed in kitchen preparing hot drinks 81 Jerash Jerash – inside apartment Pan wide shot of Jerash at sunset 82 Jerash – inside apartment Shot of someone’s backyard in Jerash 83 Jerash – inside apartment Wide shot kid walking down hill 84 Jerash – inside apartment Mid shot Shop-owner Khaled standing outside coffee shop 85 Jerash Close-up Khaled interview outside coffee shop, Ali working in the background I helped (Ali) because he’s a human being like us. His pay is also a bit lower than the Jordanians, that’s why I employ them. 86 Close-up Khaled interview outside coffee shop, Ali working in the background Rough translation [He’s a bit worried about the authorities…] 87 Close-up Khaled interview outside coffee shop, Ali working in the background He also says they have to be patient everyone is Arab and should help each other until they can get back to their country. He is asking all the nations to help Syria get back to normal.