Why cash assistance proved a lifeline for this single Syrian mum
As a Syrian refugee and single mum, Hanaa has always been careful with money. She was forced to flee Syria in 2013 after her husband was killed in a bomb blast. For the last six years, she has relied on UNHCR cash assistance, supplementing this income with whatever odd jobs she could find.
Every month, Hanaa scraped together the rent on her two-room flat in Zarqa, a city in northern Jordan. Any money left over went towards food, other essentials and – very occasionally – a small treat for her daughters, Joudy and Lojain.
Then the pandemic reached Jordan, and everything changed again.
“Last year, I was infected with COVID and fell very sick,” says Hanaa. “Thankfully I recovered, but I worried constantly about affording rent. It was impossible to find work and debt was piling up. I was being very careful about using the cash assistance to only buy the things we needed the most.”
While lockdowns have lifted in Jordan, Hanaa still relies on cash assistance to survive. “I have no choice but to live simply, to make something out of nothing,” she says. “But the problem is money.”
Compared with other countries in the Middle East, Jordan is an expensive place to live, ranked as an “upper middle income country” by the World Bank. Wages are low compared to the cost of living.
An unfurnished two-to-three room apartment in Amman is about 200JOD ($AUD396) per month, says Roshan Gawdan, who works in UNHCR’s Jordan office. “A single gas cylinder for cooking and heating lasts about two weeks and costs 7JOD ($AUD14), while a month’s supply of formula milk is 30JOD ($AUD42).”
Refugee women find it particularly difficult to make ends meet. The combination of family responsibilities and lack of access to work permits makes it impossible to secure a regular income. That’s why donations to the Leading Women Fund are paid directly in cash assistance – giving women like Hanaa the freedom to choose how to support their families.
“Cash assistance is the most effective way to empower these women to make the financial choices to best serve their needs,” says Naomi Steer, National Director of Australia for UNHCR and founder of the Leading Women Fund. “Families no longer have to choose between food and sending their children to school. They can feel more secure in the present and begin to focus on the future.”
For now, Hanaa’s main focus is her daughters, who are now in secondary school. “Last year they attended school online – my oldest, Joudy, used a smartphone to attend classes and submit her homework, and she loves creating online content and publishing it on her YouTube channel. Her dream is to become a journalist. I hope she fulfils her dreams.”
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The majority of funds raised by Australia for UNHCR are directed to UNHCR’s emergency operations, providing the ready funds and resources to respond quickly and effectively in situations of crisis and disaster.