"I have been a refugee for 67 years"

Wednesday, April 29, 2015 - 10:36

Shafiqa was only four years old when her life as a Palestinian refugee began. In 1948, Shafiqa fled her family's home in the Palestinian village of Zakaria, during what Palestinians call ‘al-Nakba’, meaning ‘the day of catastrophe’.

During the 1948 Palestine War, an estimated 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled, and hundreds of Palestinian towns and villages were depopulated and destroyed, proceeding and following the Israeli Declaration of Independence.

As the fighting raged, Shafiqa and her family fled from their home to a refugee camp in Bethlehem.

Shafiqa said "All over Palestine, people were being killed. We were scared and my parents decided to move out of the city,"

Shafiqa and her family had lived in their family home for generations; moving to Bethlehem, they found themselves living in a small tent that seeped rainwater during the wet winter months.

This journey was the first of many; in 1967, then 23 year old Shafiqa had to flee her home once again during the Arab-Israeli War; a conflict fought between Israel and the Arab States of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Shafiqa was amongst hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled the West Bank and Gaza Strip to neighboring countries in search of safety.

Shafiqa said goodbye to her parents in Bethlehem and left the country together with her husband, Ibrahim, and their 3 months old daughter. They were afraid they would get killed if they stayed and saw no other option than to leave the country where they were born.

"We went from Palestine to Jordan by foot. During our walk we saw dead people lying on the street. I tried to cover my three month old daughter under my headscarf to protect her from the bloodshed." Shafiqa said

The walk from Palestine to Jordan was not without its challenges. The family first settled in the city of Salt and were welcomed by the local Jordanians who brought them food, shelter and clothing. Shafiqa still remembers the living conditions at that time,

"We lived in a tent. It was very small, and when the water was high, it came inside the tent and made everything wet," she explained.

The family travelled from city to city, finally settling in the Palestinian refugee camp of al-Baqa'a where Shafiqa and her family live to this day.

Where a tent was once stood, over the years, Shafiqa and her family have built a simple cement house. Mattresses line the floors of the lounge, and the home still lacks basic amenities such as carpets.

It has taken time for Shafiqa and her family to build their home, and the poor living conditions they once lived in had tragic consequences - one of Shafiqa’s young children died when he was just three years old due to the lack of healthcare in the camp.

67 years on from when Shafiqa first fled her home, her family continues to receive UNWRA food parcels and remain classified ‘refugees.’

Around 80% of people living in Jordan are from Palestine; many still living in the refugee camps they first fled to.

Today Shafiqa has 35 grandchildren – one of them is the 17 year old Hamza who was born inside the camp. He has never visited Palestine but yet he feels that his grandparent's destiny is a part of him.

"I will always feel that I am a refugee. My mission is to go back to my country, Palestine. Palestine is in my heart," the 17 year old young man said.

Hamza has lived his entire life in al-Baqa’a camp. Like every other 17 year old young man, Hamza goes to school. His school is placed in the camp and is run by UNRWA (The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees)

Hamza said of living in the camp, "UNRWA runs everything in the camp including my school. The services are not good, you can see from the bad conditions of the street around you.“

For Palestinians still living in camps, they often feel excluded from Jordanian society and have substandard services in their community provided for by UNWRA. Across the region, the UN is mandated to respond to the needs of an estimated 5 million Palestinian refugees and with an annual budget in 2014-15, of $1.4billion.

Today, ActionAid are working in Baqa’a camp through the local partner I-Dare for sustainable development; supporting young active citizens in leading their communities to positive transformation.