Jordan closes door on Syrian refugees despite UN pressure

Kingdom already hosts 1.3m Syrians fleeing war, straining country’s slim resources

Displaced Syrians at a Jordanian military medical outpost, near Nasib border crossing between Jordan and Syria. Photograph: Ahmad Abdo/EPA

Displaced Syrians at a Jordanian military medical outpost, near Nasib border crossing between Jordan and Syria. Photograph: Ahmad Abdo/EPA

 

Jordan is no longer willing to be a dumping ground for refugees fleeing the region’s many conflicts. In 2012 the kingdom began to restrict the entry of Syrians, and in 2016 it closed its border to all but wounded and ailing Syrians.

Despite UN and international pressure, Amman has flatly refused to accept Syrians fleeing ongoing fighting in the south of their country, forcing the 60,000 who had massed at the Nasib crossing on the Syrian-Jordanian border to go home when ceasefires were proclaimed.

Jordan hosts 1.3 million Syrian refugees, 657,600 dependent on foreign aid. While there are five Syrian refugee camps in Jordan, up to 90 per cent of the refugees live in urban areas, straining the kingdom’s slender resources. At least 80 per cent live below the poverty line.

At present, funding for this year’s €2.1 billion Jordan Response Plan stands at only $183 million, 7.2 per cent of the required amount. During 2017, 65 per cent of funding for Jordan was delivered.

Following EU-hosted pledging conferences in Brussels this year and last, and earlier events in London and Kuwait, donors failed to meet commitments, leaving countries hosting refugees, particularly Jordan and Lebanon, in dire straits.

Jordan’s minister of planning and international co-operation, Mary Kawar, told the Jordan Times, “For eight years now we have been hosting [Syrian] refugees and providing them with the necessary services and economic opportunities in spite of [the] tremendous economic, military, security and humanitarian burdens” imposed on Jordan.

Sensitive time

The shortfall in funding has come at a particularly sensitive time as Jordan has seen unprecedented popular protests against the country’s faltering economy, aging infrastructure and diminished public services; all are blamed on influx of the Syrians.

Schools are overcrowded, water is in short supply and rising demand for housing is driving up rents. Although Jordan issues only a limited number of work permits to Syrians, Jordanians without jobs are resentful.

So far Germany, the EU, the US and Japan have promised to provide a total of $90 million during this month, a stopgap sum if delivered.

Meanwhile, the US has drastically cut funding to UNRWA, the UN agency caring for Palestinian refugees. More than two million of those registered with the agency live in Jordan. UNRWA is facing its worst financial crisis ever due to the Trump administration’s refusal to maintain the American level of funding at $364 million.

The US has paid only $65 million out of the first instalment of $125 million. Consequently, UNRWA faces severe cuts in its educational, health and welfare services. This can only increase demands on deeply stressed Jordan. Out of Jordan’s population of 9.9 million, 57 per cent live in poverty.

In addition to Syrians and Palestinians, Jordan hosts 66,000 Iraqis, 9,800 Yemenis and thousands of other refugees requiring international assistance to survive.

Not all refugees who have settled in Jordan are a burden. Middle class and wealthy Palestinians, Syrians and Iraqis have built businesses and homes and prospered and have strengthened the backbone of the country’s economy.

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