A Home for Syrian Widows of Martyrs

Just 20 Km south of the Syrian border lies Irbid, Jordan, the third largest city in the country. Amidst the bustle of a busy city center is one of the eleven homes for “Widows of Martyrs” in Irbid. The residence provides shelter for women whose husbands were killed during the Syrian war. The majority of the women have their children with them at the home. Many of the inhabitants are widows of former rebel fighters whose different factions fought against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. The Jordanian government has allowed several different Islamic charities from throughout the Arab world to operate the homes as a means of easing the strain of taking in a large refugee population. According to UNHCR, the largest numbers of Syrian refugees are located in the northern governorates. In Irbid alone, Syrian refugees constitute twelve percent of the total population. Though Islamic charities are operating the homes, the women staying at the residence in downtown Irbid were left in the dark about who is specifically contributing to their welfare. F, a thirty-four year old woman who has lived at this particular widow home for over a year, stated that they were really not supposed to know who was funding the residence, but she heard it was a sheik from a different country. The homes which at first seemed to serve a need in the community have not come without scrutiny from people inside Jordan. D, who works for an international humanitarian organization said that some Saudi Arabian donors supporting particular charities which oversee many of the homes are given access to the women. Since they are in a vulnerable situation, the women that are chosen must adhere to the sexual requests of the Saudi men. Rules abound, many of the women still find the homes a better alternative than living in a refugee camp. N, along with her three single daughters were formerly living in a United Arab Emirates refugee camp, but were allowed to stay in the home due to N’s frail health. Though N, is a widow she is not considered the wife of a martyr. According to the women staying in the home, a martyr is a term of respect for anyone who died by the hand of the Syrian regime. They said they hoped to return to Syria, but their residence is located in an ISIS controlled area. One of the women went back to check on the family home in Syria, but returned to Jordan to be with her sisters and mother. The mother said if they returned to Syria they would like to get a weapon for protection, but she was unsure who would sell them one. M, an elderly woman whose husband died in Syria and has lived in the building for a year laments how she is frustrated by the rules. She described that before the war in Syria she could come and go as she pleased. Now she cannot easily leave the building to go to the market. In the winter, the doors close as early as 4:30pm and the rest of the year they close at 6pm. Women and children, many who never leave the building, must also be off the balcony at 6pm so they are not seen. The strict rules are not limited to the widows themselves. According to R, a widow living in the building, any male child staying there must leave by the time they reach puberty. The boy must go to live outside the home while the rest of the family stays or the whole family must go if they intend to stay together. The reasons for this weren’t made clear to her, but it is one of the strict rules those staying in the home must comply with. R, is the mother of four children, one of which is a twelve year old boy. She said she will not send her oldest son away so she and her three other children can live at the home. Instead she will find a a way they can all live together. R, who said her husband was a former Syrian government employee turned Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighter and killed by the Assad regime does find some of the regulations at the home work in her favor. She feels the conservative rules can help her to control her daughters. R decided against third country resettlement, because she didn’t want her daughters running around in a place like Germany without oversight. Despite adhering to the strict rules, accessing refugee resources outside of the building has been a challenge. According to F, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) came to visit the building she stays in, but they were not allowed in by the administration. Depression due to isolation was a common lament by the women living in the building. H, whose husband was a rebel fighter with the FSA fathered her four children. The youngest was born on the day of her husbands burial. When she complained about her depression rather than being allowed medical treatment or counseling, the administration told her to study the Koran. Despite H’s condition, all people staying at the home must take the mandatory religious classes in order to live there. She said she has considered third country resettlement, but is afraid to go and live in a foreign country without a man. The evident pressures and confusion that many of the widows face has created a perplexing situation for those dependent on the charities for survival. Despite the women’s concern about their future, they continue to accept the conditions of their environment. Therefore they endure the circumstances of losing not only their husbands, but their country. •This piece is from April of 2016. I have chosen to use the first initials of the women in this piece rather than their full names

Journalism, Photojournalism, Writing
H, 40 (center) poses for a portrait with her two daughters F, 18 (left) and R, 13 (right). She has two boys as well, A, 12 and H, 9 (not pictured). Her husband was formerly allied with the Assad regime, but broke with the government and joined the Free Syrian Army (FSA). He was killed shortly afterward. H’s 12-year-old, son is the oldest boy at the residence. Soon he will be forced to leave, since the home’s rules allow no males who have reached puberty. H says the whole family will go together.
A, 24 poses for a portrait with her daughter Y, 5.  A’s husband returned to Syria and married another woman. A was forced by her family to drop out of school and marry him at the age of 16, even though she was a promising student.  Her father fought with the Free Syrian Army and was killed, and her little boy died in the hospital in Amman. She has no one to take care of her and is considering third-country resettlement.
H, 31 (right) poses for a portrait with her four children. They are from Homs, which saw some of the fiercest fighting between government forces and the Free Syrian Army between 2011 and 2014. H’s youngest son M was born on the day her husband was buried, four years ago. A fighter in the Free Syrian Army, he was killed by a bomb. She is afraid of third-country settlement because she has no husband and has heard it is difficult, but is now considering it for her children’s education.
N, 75 (center) poses with her three unmarried daughters. They were previously in a United Arab Emirates refugee camp, but the mother has medical issues, so they are allowed to stay at the residence. Their home back in Syria is still standing, but is located in an ISIS-controlled village. They are waiting for word that the village is safe, so they can go back.