“Queue jumping”: the view from afar

27 Jan 2015

The fairness of Australia’s refugee policies looks different at the Al Zaatari camp.

I am sitting on a mattress on the floor of a demountable building in the Al Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. After meeting me at a neighbour’s, Fatema brought me here to drink tea, meet some of her family, and tell me about her circumstances. She and her family have been living here since they fled the fighting in Syria.

Fatema is the lively matriarch of a family of twenty. Quick to laugh and brimming with stories from five decades of life in Syria, she explains how she ended up in the camp. “I saw myself dying,” she tells me. “We were all threatened. It was really hard for us. It was war. Would you stay in a place that had war? I had to take all my kids and flee. There was no food, there was nothing. Airstrikes every day.” She laments the loss: “Oh my village, oh my village. It is all demolished now. It is empty now.”

Jamal Ahmed is another of the millions of victims of the war in Syria. Although he isn’t part of Fatema’s family, he has joined us while we have been talking. With his greying stubble and moustache, he sits opposite me, smoking, next to Fatema’s son, Ibraheem. He has something to tell me, but I am preoccupied for a while with what others are saying. Eventually, though, our attention moves to Jamal, who tells me he was tortured by the Syrian regime and wants to show me the evidence. I am reluctant: I have seen enough of the remnants of torture, and it seems voyeuristic to comply. He also wants to show me YouTube videos of Syrians being tortured. I refuse the latter, but finally agree to look at his injuries.

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Image: David Corlett

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