Marta Triggiano is project manager of the Italian NGO “Un ponte per“, which is operating in Jordan and Northern Iraq to provide humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees.
I contacted the NGO hoping to get an interview with Miss Triggiano, since I am particularly interested in the ongoing Syrian conflict and specifically in the humanitarian assistance that is being provided to the Syrian refugees who have been forced to leave their homes. The NGO, called “Un ponte per” promptly provided me with Marta Triggiano’s contact and I was able to get a phone interview with her. She gave me and in-depth analysis of the lives of the refugees, explained me how the host countries’ Governments and civil populations are dealing with them, and also clarified the relations between the refugees and the Syrian Rebels.
Giovanni Baldoni: What is the general situation of Syrian refugees in Northern Iraq and Jordan in terms of basic necessities and possible ways out?
Marta Triggiano: The situation is worsening every day. The number of Syrian refugees is increasing steadily both in Jordan and Northern Iraq but also in other neighboring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt. Even though it is true that over the last couple months the humanitarian response to help the refugees has augmented, the services provided by Humanitarian actions are not enough to address all the needs of the refugees, which are mostly basic needs like water, food, basic health assistance, medical treatment, and education for children. Many of the refugees coming from Syria have been directly targeted by the violence, but some of them who are not directly targeted by the conflict, still have to flee Syria because they have lost access to primary needs such as food and water and basic services such as health care. Some of them haven’t eaten anything since several days and there are some serious health cases. People that flee their countries are in need of everything, the primary needs of course, but also that kind of needs we don’t usually think of, as for example access to information, available services and orientation to live in a new country.
Giovanni Baldoni: Was collaboration offered by Jordan and the Iraqi government satisfactory in terms of material and logistic support?
Marta Triggiano: Both the Jordanian and the Iraqi Government, or to better say, the Kurdistan Regional government (KRG), have so far guaranteed a policy of open borders which is absolutely positive. The situation within Iraq is more complicated because there are three main crossing points on the borders between Iraq and Syria. Two of them are constantly closed, then there is another one which is open most of the time, which is the one used by most of the Syrian refugees. This crossing is located in the northern part of Iraq bordering Syria, within the Kurdistan Region under the control of the KRG. In Jordan there are two or three official frontiers to cross into Syria, but there are also several passages where people can cross illegally and a high number of refugees are actually doing so. In terms of response, the Jordanian government since the very first day allowed Syrian refugees to register with the UNHCR, the UN high commissioner for refugees, and therefore to get free access to public hospital, public health centers as well as public schools. In the KRG (the Kurdish Regional Government), most of the refugees are registered with the UNHCR and with the immigration department of the KRG and by doing so they can obtain a 6 months permit of stay which is a very good achievement because this permit allows them to work and to ensure a kind of livelihood which is very difficult. In both countries the best solution for both governments would be in any case to have all refugees into refugee camps, which is not an easy-to-apply solution. But keeping the refugees all together, within the limits of possibility, is definitely an easier way to get the international community to give them support.
Giovanni Baldoni: What is the attitude of Jordan and Iraqi public opinions towards the Syrian Refugees?
Marta Triggiano: The situation varies quite a lot depending if we speak about the Kurdish Region or Jordan. Most of the Syrian refugees that seek protection in Kurdistan are of Kurd ethnicity so there is a kind of ethnic affiliation between the refugees and the local population. As for Jordan, the nation has hosted in the last years hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees, and the fact has to be taken into account, that a high percentage of the Jordan population consists of Palestinian refugees, which make Jordan a country of refugees and because of this reason Jordanian people have shown in the last months and years an extraordinary solidarity towards all people in need and refugees. The Jordanian population is absolutely generous. The problem is not a matter of generosity by the Jordanians, the issues is unfortunately of another nature. The number of Syrian refugees in Jordan has now reached half a million and by the end of this year they will be more than one million inside Jordan, whose whole population is of only 6 million people. How can a country host a number of refugees equal to one sixth of its own population? It’s a big burden on the Jordan people. Furthermore most of Jordanian host communities which are helping Syrian refugees are in really poor areas, where life is difficult, where there is a high rate of unemployment and huge problems especially in terms of resources, for example water which is a main issue in Jordan. This is why the international community has to support the countries that are giving help to the refugees, because they are reaching if they haven’t already reached the highest capacity of bearing this burden.
Giovanni Baldoni: What are the expectations and hopes of Syrian refugees as to the Syrian Civil War? Do anti-Assad rebels have relations with them?
Marta Triggiano: Syrian refugees are escaping Syria from all regions of the country; therefore the refugee population is quite diverse. Most of the middle class Syrian refugees found a refuge in Lebanon. The Kurds are escaping towards the Kurdish region in Iraq. Syrians from the Northern areas are fleeing mainly to Turkey. As for those of them that are leaving Syria through the southern border and therefore entering Jordan, they mostly come from rural areas of Dar’a and Damascus. These are very poor areas where over the last years and decades the opposition to the regime of Basar al Assad has always been very strong, this is the reason why most of the refugees in Jordan support the opposition, they are absolutely against the regime and many of them also support the idea of an armed conflict against the regime. Over the last few weeks we’ve also witnessed an increasingly high number of refugees, especially those that are in the biggest refugee camp in Jordan, claiming that they want to go back to Syria. Most likely a high majority of them wish to go back and join the rebel groups, the armed opposition groups which are fighting Assad. Also because the opposition armed groups are gaining more and more territories in the south of Syria, where these refugees come from.