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Jordan, escape hatch for fleeing Syrians, also shelters most of the Mideast's Arab Mormons

Published March 1, 2017 8:55 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As Syria continues to devolve into chaos, violence and destruction, its refugees have little hope of making it to the United States — especially with President Donald Trump's stated intention of blocking any from entering this country.

Instead, they are fleeing to nearby nations — especially the relatively safe haven of Jordan. It is home to some of the largest refugee camps in the Middle East, where Syrians seem resigned to remain for years.

Jordan also happens to have the "biggest population of Arab Mormons in the Middle East," notes independent LDS demographer Matt Martinich. "There are two Arabic-speaking branches [small congregations] there that have grown slowly over the past two or three decades. There's also an English-speaking branch, mostly for expatriates."

And there are several LDS Humanitarian Services couples from the U.S. there as well, says church spokesman Eric Hawkins, doing whatever they can to lift the country's burdens.

About four years ago, a Mormon couple from Farmington, Jim and Karyn Anderson, spent their days in the Syrian refugee camps. Even then, when the tragedy hadn't yet reached today's cataclysmic pitch, the stories were horrifying.

"Crawling through the desert by night, a Syrian woman — with her husband, brother and seven children — makes her way toward the border to escape into Jordan. Snipers, watching from a nearby hillside, fire on them, killing her husband and brother," Jordan Times intern James Stack reported at the time. "Another family flees the horror of Syria's civil war, the father carrying his 2-year-old son with his wife by his side. Syrian soldiers take aim. They miss the man and instead hit the young boy, killing him. They seize the father but release the mother, who cradles her child's lifeless body for a seemingly endless bus ride to find help."

These are the kinds of tales the Andersons shared with Stack (yes, he's my son), for an October 2012 story in The Salt Lake Tribune.

The bulk of their experiences came in Jordan's largest Syrian refugee camp, Zaatari, a sprawling tent city about two hours from Amman that in 2012 housed more than 35,000 people. That has since mushroomed to nearly 80,000, according to the United Nations.

"Near the northern border city of Mafraq, the camp is essentially in a desert, where hot, dusty gales uproot tents," Stack wrote, "and send families scrambling."

Karyn Anderson, a nurse by training, described the experience of a man "who had been in a Syrian prison camp, where guards, to teach him a lesson, cut off his toes. Later, they hacked off his foot. Then they cut up to his knee and then his hip. Finally, they severed his leg, emasculated him and threw him to the streets."

The refugee went on to ask the Mormon worker: "You know, look at me, of what value am I to anyone?"

Those are "hard situations to comfort," she told the reporter.

The Andersons completed their time in Jordan several years ago, but other Mormon couples are there now — as the windstorm of refugees becomes more and more blinding.

Peggy Fletcher Stack






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