Editor’s Note: The author is international editor at Catholic News Service and is on a reporting trip to the Middle East sponsored by Catholic Relief Services.
AMMAN, Jordan – The stories sound so much alike one might think they were rehearsed, except for the pain in the refugees’ eyes.
The Iraqis left Mosul and surrounding villages with only the clothes on their back after receiving ultimatums from Islamic State fighters. Eventually, they all camped out in Irbil, Iraq, before making their way to Jordan.
The Syrians never ever dreamed they would be forced to leave their homes. Many were taken by bus to the border of Jordan and had to cross over at night.
After editing story after story from the Middle East, there is something very humbling about looking into a person’s eyes and seeing pain and despair. It is touching to see how families have tried to make a home, squeezed into small spaces separated by curtains and wood, sharing two toilets, a urinal and a church hall with 38 other people.
Catholic Relief Services brought me to visit the refugees as a 2014 Egan Fellow. It’s a quick trip, with long days and lots of direct contact with people who tell similar stories.
Yet in the midst of tales of hardship are people with hope and kindness. Syrian Muslim women in northern Jordan expressed thanks for a church-supported school program. Their children performed for visitors, as seen in the video below. (Disclaimer: Cell phone videos in low light and shot by jetlagged journalists are not up to normal Catholic News Service standards.)
One Syrian couple invited us into their apartment even though the man’s sister-in-law had died that morning.
And, in moments with laughter, Iraqi teens posed for selfies with journalists.
Throughout the last two days, families repeatedly asked if we could help them get resettled. One man even presented me with a list of the names and ages of his family members.
It’s heartbreaking to tell them that all I can do is tell their stories. So in the next few weeks, I will try to do just that for them.