Marion visits Caritas Jordan to collect some food supplies.

Credits: Michelle Hough/Caritas

“Sometimes I’m afraid when I see the police,” said Marion*. “If they catch me I’ll be sent back to my country. I have nothing there. There’s nothing to eat.

What would I do? How would I live?” Marion, 50, left her home in Eritrea and came to Jordan nine years ago. The agency she signed up with told her to say she was a secretary as it would be easier to get a work permit. She was really going to be a domestic worker.

After four years she lost her job. She wanted to change her permit to that of a domestic worker, but she couldn’t. Ever since then she has been undocumented.

Marion has no house, job or money to return to in Eritrea, but she has left something very precious back home: her children. There are four of them, aged between 12 and 20, and they have grown up without her.

Her worn face draws into a frown and she rubs her side just below her ribs. “I have a spasmodic colon,” she said. “It comes from thinking in the night about my children. I’ve not seen them since they were very young. I’ve lost a lot of weight because of it.”

The children’s father is from Ethiopia. They all lived there together, but Marion and her children had to return to Eritrea after war broke out between the two countries in 1998.

“I haven’t seen him since,” she said. “I don’t know if he’s dead or alive.”

Her children live with her mother. Marion used to send them money from her salary, but now she works infrequently because her documents aren’t in order.

“Sometimes I work, but I also try to hide. Do you want to know why I wear this?” she said, scrunching the sides of her blue veil in her hands. “So I blend in and look like a Muslim woman. But I’m not, I’m Christian.”

Marion shares a room with two other women. It costs 17 dinars (around $24) a month.When she works, she contributes to the rent; otherwise she relies on the help of friends. She tries to work one or two days a month, always in the knowledge that if she’s caught she’ll be imprisoned.

A return home wouldn’t be easy. Under current law she would have to pay for each day she’s lived in Jordan undocumented. She said after five years without a residence permit, she would owe around 3,000 dinars (over $4,200). It’s a sum way beyond her means. Her only hope would be for an amnesty, which the King sometimes grants to let migrants return home without paying fines.

Caritas has helped Marion do tests for her health problems. On this particular visit to Caritas Jordan’s community centre, she also received a food package containing lentils, tea, oil, sugar, milk, cheese, rice and stock cubes. She said her faith and the community where she worships help her.

“Only God knows what will happen. I hope that if I see my children I’ll be healthy,” she said.