News / Middle East

Jordan Bears Burden of Syria Refugees

Among its neighbors, the Hashemite Kingdom has received the largest number of refugees fleeing Syria's conflict and is paying a high price for it

A Syrian girl carries a bucket filled with bottles of precious water to her family's tent in Jordan's al Za'atri refugee camp, September 04, 2012. (UNHCR)
A Syrian girl carries a bucket filled with bottles of precious water to her family's tent in Jordan's al Za'atri refugee camp, September 04, 2012. (UNHCR)
David Arnold
As Syrians flee from a deadly civil war between rebel forces and President Bashar al-Assad’s military, neighboring countries are struggling to take care of more than 450,000 refugees.
 
And the number of Syrian refugees, compiled by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, is expected to double within a few months, compounding an already dire situation.
 
Turkey, which has closed some of its border crossings, has taken in about 100,000 Syrian refugees. Lebanon has registered about 94,000. Iraq has received about 39,000. But the largest share of refugees are in neighboring Jordan, whose frontier is only a few kilometers south Daraa, the birthplace of Syria’s 18-month-old effort to depose the Assad regime. Refugee officials in Jordan estimate they are serving more than 200,000 refugees, noting that 105,000 have registered, but that many more have refused to register.
 
As the civil war continues, refugee camps established beyond Syria’s borders are growing quickly, but the funds needed to support them are not -- despite the world-wide attention focused on the situation when Tony Lake, executive director of the U.N. children’s agency (UNICEF), visited to the settlements  with film star Angelina Jolie, a special envoy for U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
 
The most important thing is that we’re on the verge of winter and most of the occupants of that camp are living in tents.
The consequence is that suffering in these camps is increasing and the burden on the host countries deepens.
 
Jordan is a poor desert nation with a government deeply in debt and a history of serving as a refuge for large neighboring populations displaced by political disasters. It also has a severe shortage of natural resources, including water.
 
Though Jordan now hosts an estimated 200,000 Syrians, officials say it needs to prepare urgently for twice that many. The officials point out, however, that the situation could even be more serious because some Syrians refuse to register when they arrive in Jordan, fearing the Assad regime may learn their identities.
 
While the majority of Syrians in Jordan are living with friends, relatives or in rental housing, an estimated 36,000 live in the Za’atri refugee camp. The largest percentage are women, children and the elderly who live in a windswept sea of tents emblazoned with the letters “UNHCR.”  The tents were set up three months ago in the desert about an hour’s drive from the Syrian frontier.
 
x
Winter temperatures are dropping in Za’atri
 
“The main challenge at Za’atri is the dust and the heat,” said Ayman al-Mufleh, the secretary-general of the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization, which manages the camp.  “That’s why we’re trying to change from tents to houses.”
 
The Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization, or JHCO, is a government agency that also provides food, medical assistance, housing stipends and other services for Syria’s larger popular of urban refugees as well.
 
The charity group says it needs $60 million to buy and erect 12,000 prefabricated dwellings that can house about 60,000 people in coming months.
 
Living conditions in Za’atri already are becoming critical. In recent weeks, small groups of refugees have protested camp conditions. When a sandstorm blew over several of the tents, a gang of protesters set fire to a hospital. In one incident, threatened UNHCR staff had to withdraw from the camp for several hours.
 
Several Arab countries have donated funds for construction of pre-fabricated structures being made in Amman, but agency officials expect to have less than half of Za’atri refugees in prefab housing this winter when temperatures drop to 1.6 degrees centigrade.
 
We have to be prepared for more people to come across, particularly as winter starts hitting in Syria and the situation could become more desperate.

“The most important thing is that we’re on the verge of winter and most of the occupants of that camp are living in tents,” Anmar al-Hmoud, an official from the host country’s Higher Committee for Syrian Refugees in Jordan, said in Amman last week.
 
The Za’atri camp is supported by about 200 staff of the UNHCR and others from more than 80 other U.N. agencies and non-government organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, Mercy Corps, Handicap international, Oxfam, Jesuit Refugee Service, Muslim Aid, Save the Children, and the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief.
 
Serving more than 200,000 refugees from Syria
 
Time and money are crucial to refugee survival in Jordan’s harsh desert climate this winter, said Andrew Harper, Jordan representative of the UNHCR. UNHCR and JHCO have made a joint appeal for international donations of $250 million to meet anticipated needs at Za’atri as well as an estimated 170,000 of Syria’s “urban refugees” in Amman and elsewhere in the country. But so far, pledges have been slow to roll in.
 
“We have to be prepared for more people to come across, particularly as winter starts hitting in Syria and the situation could become more desperate,” Harper said.
 
“The situation is deteriorating greatly in the southern part of Syria, which is Daraa and the villages around it,” said Hmoud. “Our people hear the bombardment clearly and we expect the more suffering, the influx will be much more.”
 
Za’atri can accommodate about 60,000 refugees. Refugee officials are investigating another site in al-Zarqa closer to Amman, and a possible third site if the need arises.  Refugee officials also are also looking for a separate site to segregate many of the single males suspected of involvement in some of the violent incidents.
 
Threats to Jordan’s fragile aquifer and unstable economy
 
The difficulties in Za’atri are a condensed version of what is happening in many parts of Jordan, which ranks as one of three countries in the world with the most critical water shortages.
 
First it was the Palestinians, the Iraqis, in 1990, then the Lebanese and again the Iraqis, then the Syrians.
The camp is located on the edge of a 300-meter deep aquifer that provides fresh water for most of Jordan.  But until wells are completed, water is being trucked in daily in what officials say is a costly operation.
 
“It (water) is really a major issue,“ said Hmoud, who complained that Syrians in the camp waste lots of potable water. “Where they come from, Syrians have ample water. They don’t think of, they do not consider conserving water. When they use it they use it liberally, unlike Jordanians.”
 
Another necessity missing at Za’atri is jobs. With 14 percent unemployment, Jordan offers few work opportunities for its own jobless, much less refugees. For the few jobs that are available, the JHCO hopes that most go to Jordanians.
 
But such desperate situations are not new to Jordan, a nation that has been host for many refugees during decades of Middle East turmoil.
 
“First it was the Palestinians, the Iraqis, in 1990, then the Lebanese and again the Iraqis, then the Syrians,” said JHCO’s Mufleh. The government claims there are 500,000 Iraqis still in Jordan. ”We are surrounded by Iraqis, Palestinians, Lebanese and Syrians. We have created a safe haven for them.
 
“We like to help others, but … because of the issues of economics and employment, it is hard for us to receive refugees without affecting normal life for Jordanians.”
 
The Hashemite Kingdom of King Abdullah II can do little for these refuges without donor help, said Harper, because “the government is running a deficit of $3 billion a year and doesn’t have very much natural resources of its own. 
 
“But it has done the right thing by the international community by keeping its borders open.”

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festivali
X
April 24, 2015 4:09 AM
Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Keeping Washington Airspace Safe Is Tall Order

Being the home of all three branches of the U.S. federal government makes Washington, D.C. the prime target for those who want to make their messages and ideas heard. Unfortunately, many of them choose to deliver them in unorthodox ways, including from the air, as a recent incident clearly showed involving a gyrocopter landing on the Capitol’s West Lawn. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

VOA Blogs