Jordan’s Syrian Refugee Crisis

Beyond the numbers

Samah Bibars*

Within their camps, Syrian refugees face difficult economic and social conditions, which have become increasingly difficult as aid and funding to support Jordan in hosting them has declined. These difficult conditions would turn these camps into time bombs that could explode in the face of society at any moment, as they are a source of danger if the conditions of the refugees are not improved, and basic services are provided to them.

Since its inception, the war in Syria has displaced more than 5.6 million Syrians from their country, of whom Jordan has embraced more than 1.3 million Syrians, including 661854 Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR-Jordan in four camps: Zaatari (opened July 2012), Azraq (opened April 2014), Emirati-Jordanian camp (opened April 2013) and King Abdullah Park Camp (KAP) in Irbid (opened 2012); to host Syrians and Palestinian refugees in Syria.

In the face of these huge numbers, refugees and hosts face increasing pressure in light of the shrinking aid and lack of support, the latest of which was the announcement by the World Food Organization (WFP) that Syrian refugees in Zaatari and Azraq camps since the beginning of August began to receive a lower cash transfer of 15 Jordanian dinars (US$21) per person per month, after the previous amount was 23 Jordanian dinars (US$32), due to lack of funding, which puts the fate and future of refugees at stake. Out of every 4 households one is headed by a woman in the Al-Azraq camp, and in the Al-Zaatari camp, 1 out of 3 households is also headed by a woman, which indicates widespread poverty, in addition to the presence of 5% of people with disabilities, and 80% of the camp’s refugees are from “Daraa” in southern Syria, which is witnessing severe and continuous security unrest.

Despite Jordan’s efforts to contain the Syrian conflict, with which it has a border extending to 370 kilometers, for several considerations, foremost of which are refugees, in the hope of securing their voluntary return, as shown at the Amman consultative meeting in May this year, these efforts still face many internal and international political and security obstacles and have not yet borne fruit, but have been accompanied by a decrease in international support for refugees in Jordan to 6% of the total budget from 33% last year and 70% in 2016.

These difficult living conditions faced by the camps open the way for more fears, as the decline in services and weak support may create bad humanitarian, economic and social conditions that will not only be reflected on the camp community but may leak out of it, from a social perspective, deprivation of basic needs leads to satisfying them through illegal ways, especially in light of the lack of the necessary work that secures the money necessary to provide basic needs and in light of the decline in aid and support. In addition to poverty, unemployment creates a fertile environment for the spread of crime in its various forms, and this is reflected on the lives of the residents inside or outside the camps amid the leakage situation that is not subject to much control and the mixing between the camp and local communities.

According to its officials, Jordan has not only exceeded its absorptive capacity to contain refugees in the camps, but also outside those camps, which has put pressure on many sectors; refugees inside the camps, according to official statistics, constitute only 10% of the total number, while there are more than 150,000 Syrian students, enrolled in the formal educational system, and as a result, more than 200 schools are currently operating under the double-shift system, in addition to the health sector, which has managed more than 320,000 refugees being able to reach it, leading to the granting of more than 370,000 work permits to Syrians despite the high unemployment rates among Jordanians.

In the face of these dangerous statistics, Jordan today deals with another major problem, which is the high birth rate, as the number of newly-born refugees since the beginning of the Syrian crisis has reached 200,000 children, which means that the fertility rate among Syrians is 4.7% which is double the fertility rate in Jordan of 2.6%, in addition to the fact that 50% of refugees are under the age of 15, which clearly indicates that the needs of refugees are not limited to relief needs of food and drink only.

Since the outbreak of the war in Syria in 2011, Jordan has been considered a safe haven for Syrian refugees, until it has become the third country in the world in terms of the number of Syrian refugees, and the second in the world in terms of the number of refugees per capita. Perhaps the imminent danger facing Jordan today is not limited to the northern borders and the war on the drug trade or to controlling the escaping of the refugees from inside the camps, but also to the imminent danger represented by the repercussions of reducing financial support and aid, whether within the camps’ communities or within local communities.

*A Journalist specialized in economic affairs

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