Fadya, 38, escaped the war in Syria with her brother and sister who are both mentally disabled and her father who is blind. Her mother came too, but had a stroke during the journey and is now also incapacitated. Fadya, who declined to give her last name for safety reasons, has been living in the city of Mafraq, Jordan, for three years. She looks after all four handicapped family members on her own.
Recently, Fadya’s brother became quite sick. “He was throwing up blood,” she says. Fadya took him to a government hospital, but was told the cost of treatment would be over 400 dinars ($562). With no access to employment and most of her savings gone, such a fee was too large for Fadya, and so she took her brother home to look after him herself. “I had no choice,” she says.
Had her brother fallen ill 18 months ago, Fadya and her family would have been treated like insured Jordanians and the treatment for her brother would’ve been free. But as of November 2014, the Jordanian government changed its policy, requiring registered refugees to pay the same subsidized rates as uninsured Jordanians.
“Given the economic situation for Syrian refugees in Jordan, even modest fees are totally unaffordable,” says Anne Garella from Doctors Without Borders (MSF). “Many are now completely dependent on humanitarian assistance.”
Such is the case for Fadya who is only able to access medical treatment at a free health clinic run by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Mafraq.
Sitting in the clinic listening to Fadya tell her story was an unlikely visitor: Dave Rowntree, the drummer from British rock band Blur. Last year, Rowntree launched the Star Boot Sale, an online auction to raise money for the IRC: Selling memorabilia donated by everyone from Paul McCartney to Coldplay, he raised £65,000. This year, he’s planning something even bigger.
“They’re just ordinary mums, daughters, sisters,” says Rowntree after hearing Fadya’s story. “If the tables were turned, that could be my mum.”
Rowntree was in Jordan to see IRC’s work and to see what life is like for the more than 600,000 Syrian refugees living here. He’s hoping to renew public attention and get through to Brits who have become increasingly desensitized to the migrant crisis.
“People have lost sight of what this is all about. Refugees are fleeing because someone bombed their house,” he says. “But the most powerful thing we have is their individual stories.”
This month, Rowntree will again be launching the Star Boot Sale: So far, Kylie Minogue, Coldplay, comedian Stephen Fry, and actor Paddy Considine have offered to donate items for the online auction. This time, they’ll also be an offline sale: Rowntree along with other artists and musicians will be manning stalls on May 22 at the Old Truman Brewery in London. They’ll be selling knick knacks and memorabilia from bands like Stone Roses, Hot Chip, Blur, comedian David Walliams, street artist Dom Pattinson and ex-Spice Girl Mel C, some of whom will also appear at the event.
“Everyone has a bunch of things in their attic that they’ll never use,” says Rowntree. “So I thought, why don’t we sell them to raise money for Syrian refugees?”
The money from the online and offline auctions will go towards IRC’s mobile health clinics, special vans kitted out with medical equipment which can service refugees living in remote communities, far from clinics and hospitals.
“Outside of urban locations, accessing healthcare is even harder,” says Caroline Boustany, Health Coordinator for the IRC in Jordan. “You might only need to pay one dinar for transportation, but that one dinar means you’re not going to eat that day.”
The day after the visit to the clinic in Mafraq, Rowntree visited one of these mobile units operating on the outskirts of the city. Manning the van was Dr Muhammad Famad, who explained that beyond the financial and logistical difficulties of accessing healthcare, documentation is a big problem.
To access services like health care, refugees living outside of camps need a U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Asylum Seekers Certificate and a Ministry of Interior (MoI) service card. But as Amnesty International reported recently, Syrians who have left camps unofficially or who have returned to Syria and come back into Jordan aren’t eligible for these documents, or the services they allow. Most people rely on NGOs which offer treatment without asking for documentation.
Amon Erfan Al-Ali, a 19-year-old Syrian woman waiting for treatment from the mobile unit, found herself in exactly this situation. While pregnant, she had left the Azraq refugee camp unofficially, and so technically she’s not registered in Jordan. When it came time to give birth, she had to pay 500 dinars ($703) at a government hospital. She said she and her husband sold their wedding rings to pay for the delivery. And because Al-Ali is unregistered, her name does not appear on her child’s birth certificate, making the now 9-month-old child legally motherless.
“How can a child not have a mother?” says the baby’s grandmother, Marian Abdullah Bou-Qan, 57, showing the child’s registration certificate which only listed the father’s name. Without services set up by aid agencies like IRC, accessing healthcare for Al-Ali would be nearly impossible.
Hatem Azrui from Jordan’s Ministry of Health says that the 2014 policy changes have increased healthcare costs for Syrians, but insists that services like maternal health, child services, vaccinations and services for those suffering from thalassemia are still offered to registered refugees free of charge. But in order for Jordan to continue providing adequate health care to Syrians, he says the international community needs to do more.
“Rich countries have been affected by the influx of refugees, but they’ve only received a small number of them,” he said in a written statement to TIME. “How can Jordan, with its limited resources and its difficult economic conditions, be expected to continue to bear this heavy burden and confront the great challenge facing its health sector with the inadequate support that donor countries have provided?”
By the end of 2015, only 26% of Jordan’s funding requirements for health had been met, according to Amnesty International. At a donor conference in February, wealthy countries pledged $12 billion to support countries like Jordan shoulder the refugee burden. But so far only 53 percent of the $6 billion pledged in London for programmes in 2016 have been allocated to a specific appeal. “Even less has actually been paid to organisations running the programmes,” says Ariane Rummery from UNHCR.
Meanwhile, at a meeting of the World Bank and the IMF two weeks ago, the European Union and eight other countries pledged $141 million in grants to countries like Lebanon and Jordan to deal with the crisis – but according to the Wall Street Journal, it’s just a fraction of what World Bank officials were hoping for.
In this context, no matter how successful the Star Boot Sale is, it will only be a drop in the ocean when compared to the funds required to ensure Syrians in Jordan can access adequate healthcare and other services. Still, for Rowntree at least, the auction has an even greater symbolic power.
“The migrant crisis is still unfolding on a wildly dramatic, biblical scale,” he says. “But it seems to have fallen off the agenda. This is a chance to keep people talking about it.”
The Star Boot Sale Event: The Star Boot Sale will be held at the Old Truman Brewery, Brick Lane, London on 22nd May 2016. Doors open at 11am. Tickets cost £15 and will be on sale from 9am on Tuesday May 3.
Star Boot Sale Online Auction: The online auction goes live on May 19th at 2pm and bidding closes at 6pm on Friday 27th May. Check it out at wwww.shpock.com/StarBootSale