Sunday, November 09, 2008

One Tent Please

My friend has been in Damascus for 4 years. Unable to work legally he makes ends meet, but just barely, working dead end jobs for very little pay - as little as $3 per day for a 12 hour day, and occasionally as a translator for foreigners like myself. He recently got fed up with his inability to pay rent, pay bills, and feed himself. He went to the UNHCR which is the main organization providing aid to Iraqi refugees. As a single man, he is not considered a highly vulnerable case, or even a vulnerable case...he is not even in a classification- basically he is at the bottom of a 1.5 million person heap.

So he went to the UNHCR office. His first two visits were to no avail. He couldn't get past the security desk. There were no available appointments. On his third visit the security guard must have felt sorry for him and let him pass. When he got to the reception desk, the receptionist looked up and asked how she could help him. He said, "Yes, thank you. I would like a tent." Taken aback the receptionist ask him to repeat himself, "Yes, thank you, I would like a tent. I have no money, I am an Iraqi refugee and I am homeless. If I have a tent, I will be ok." The receptionist had no idea how to respond to this well dressed, apparently sincere man. All she could stammer was, "I'm sorry but we don't have any tents." He pointed to a picture behind her of a refugee in front of a tent that very clearly said on it "UNHCR". "One of those", he said. She looked at him closely and said, "We can not give you a tent. If we gave you a tent we would have to give everybody a tent and Damascus would be a giant tent city. I'm sorry." My friend thanked her for her concern and turned and walked out the door.