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June 05, 2013

Syrian Refugees Strain Jordan's Resources

by Elizabeth Arrott

The scale of human suffering from more than two years of war in Syria is massive.

At least 70,000 people have been killed. The United Nations reports the number of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries has passed 1.6 million and millions more are internally displaced.

Jordan has taken in nearly half a million Syrians, with some 130,000 finding refuge at the Zaatari camp near the border.

"The camp in Zaatari is the world's second largest refugee camp and it is only going to go one way," said U.N. refugee representative Andrew Harper. "It is only going to get bigger."


Services at the desert haven are overburdened.

One woman tells of trying to get an ambulance to come take her sick grandchild for help the day before. She says she had to ask 10 times.

And it's not just the refugees who are overwhelmed. Jordan's limited resources are straining under the influx.

Analyst Oraib al Rantawi, director of the Al Quds Center in Amman, says it's not something Jordan can live with for long.
 

"Why shouldn't we go for a negotiable solution for the refugees issue?" he said. "Forget about the whole Syrian crisis dimension."


He wants both sides, and their backers, to focus solely on this humanitarian issue for now.
 

"Let us provide an agreed upon areas where the refugees in Syria can live in peace," al Rantawi said. "But not to impose no-fly zones or safe havens because this is a war declaration."


He believes having both sides agree on a civilian-only area, not to be used for battle, could be a step in solving the larger conflict.

Rantawi concedes it's a matter of political will, and that is a problem those working with refugees have seen all along.
 

"It is something which humanitarian agencies get impatient with," said the UN's Harper. "It is just the lack of urgency which the international community puts towards resolving the crisis."


Major powers are planning a peace conference but it's not yet clear if either side will show up, even as refugee numbers swell.