Jordan hosts 150,000 displaced Syrians. These are documented figures; other estimates number refugees closer to 500,000. Syrians are also pouring into Lebanon and the GCC states. Critics assert that while hosting refugees is pressurizing Jordan’s economics, the government is also looking to benefit from the situation by overestimating the number of exiles.
United Nations sources told The Media Line that some refugee aid groups inflate their numbers in order to keep funds flowing. Andrew Harper, Jordan rep for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), anticipates the numbers will continue to balloon, nearly 500 people crossover nightly from the Syrian city of Deraa.
“Whenever we have tents, they are filled and new people keep coming,” he told reporters.
International aid underpins refugee services.
Canada pledged $6.5 million last week to help absorb the refugees; this tops the $8.5 million Canada has given to the international humanitarian response to violence in Syria.
Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird called the worsening civil war “tremendously horrifying” and he commended Jordan’s efforts as “an incredible example to the world”. Refugee children swarmed his entourage as they toured the new desert camp in desolate Zaatari which houses over 5,000 Syrians. Baird spoke with refugees about their difficult experiences and gave `high-fives’ greetings to children playing on a slide.
“It is tremendously important for the world to see the victims of (Bashar Al-) Assad’s repression, to see the conditions in those camps and be inspired to do more,” Baird said at a joint press conference with his Jordanian counterpart, Nasser Judeh, according to U-T San Diego.
Both men stated that they were deeply affected by the children. “We left with heavy hearts,” Judeh added. “It’s hard to see children in a refugee camp.”
Exiles are living in UNHCR tents; fabric housing that is scant protection from the harsh desert environment. Already traumatized people are coping with “strong wind, dust, and scorpions,” said Judeh. Residents have to walk outside the camp every day to collect water from distant tanks.
“Where is the money the world handed to Jordan to help us?” shouted an old woman. “They put us in tents in nowhere, without running water and electricity.” She told reporters she wanted to return to Syria despite the civil violence. “I want to go back and be buried under Bashar’s bombing – it would be better for me,” she cried.
Jordan has appealed for international funds to replace the tents with trailers, to better cope with dust-laden winds and extreme weather. Judeh conceded the conditions are challenging but said Jordan is trying “it’s best to do everything and improve.”
Jordan says hosting a single refugee costs $20 a day. The government’s also wrestling a $2 billion deficit.
International aid organizations have stepped in to help, but activists and refugees are accusing some of these groups of mismanagement and corruption. (Be mindful that corruption accusations in Jordan outnumber Jordanians.) There’s dispute over the number of refugees, and claims of overcharging for meals, housing, and medical care.
Activist Abu Ali, a Syrian who was working in the Gulf, now drives nonstop between Amman and the western border town of Ramtha, distributing donated goods. He says people are struggling in tent cities, lacking basic needs. “I prepare a full meal for refugees for less than $3, while the aid group in Zaatari is charging more than $11,” he told The Media Line.
Abu Ahmed said his efforts to help are met with objections from aid organizations, despite the fact that many families are without food or shelter. Several Ramtha families who spoke to reporters said, despite registering for help, they aren’t receiving any assistance. Abu Ahmed says his plans to open a large kitchen in Irbid to serve refugees was thwarted by governmental bureacracy and legal complications.
“This is an opportunity for people to get rich and they take advantage of that,” he said. “They are toying with the sympathies of other nations in order to make big bucks.”
Anger over lacking refugee services is inciting opposition: some activists are forming alliances to combat alleged corruption. One advocate called Abu Saleem said he will issue a complaint against Ahel Al-Ketab Wa Al-Sunna (an offshoot of an established Jordanian charity) charging financial mismanagement. Officials from that organization have denied charges, stating that they hold no commercial interests.
Back at the camp, Baird announced that Canada will also donate $1.5 million to the World Food Program in Jordan and $2 million for medical supplies for doctors inside Syria. The ministers toured the camp’s field hospital set up by Morocco: a French military hospital is also planned.
Judeh said Jordan doesn’t plan to close its borders, but stressed the need for quick outside help. “We’ll continue providing a safe haven for Syrian refugees,” he said. “At the same time, given the increasing numbers, we have sought the assistance of friends around the world.”
If you wish to lend your own hands to this strained support system, please check out any of the many relief organizations focused on the Syrian refugee crisis. Three examples are United Nations Refugee Agency, Muslim Aid, and Islamic Relief USA. Do some research to find one that inspires your confidence.
So who’s on the take? And who has a heart like a solid gold Mercedes? Debating those questions won’t clothe and feed the kids.
Image of Arab refugees from Shutterstock