No end in sight for Jordan’s refugee crisis.
By Ashley Delamater
Since March of 2011, the civil war in Syria has continued to worsen. As conditions increasingly deteriorate, the number of Syrian refugees continues to climb. Currently Jordan hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees at an estimated 140,000, though only a little over 49,000 are registered with the UN Refugee Agency. The first waves of refugees that crossed the border sought asylum with family members and friends living in Jordan. The hope to be with Jordanian family is common among Syrian refugees due to the high number of inter-marriages between Jordanian and Syrian peoples. However, the new waves of refugees are now being taken to transit camps and Jordan’s first official refugee camp, Al Zaatari.
While Jordan has continued to hold an open-border policy, the growing number of Syrians pouring over the border each day has the country concerned. With one of the smallest economies in the Middle East and economic growth down significantly from 2008 due to the global banking crisis, Jordan’s financial resources are limited. Foreign Minister, Nasser Judeh of Jordan admitted that the country had held off on opening official camps for refugees due to the lack of resources. Yet, unable to manage the influx of refugees into their major cities, Jordan has been working to create camps in order to accommodate those fleeing the violence while also reducing the pressure on health, water, and education resources in the major cities.
Although Jordan works to provide electricity, water, land, and shelter for those seeking sanctuary, conditions in the camps remain harsh. This is partly due to the inability to keep up with the fast growing numbers in addition to the strained resources of Jordan. At the beginning of August, the BBC news source reported that King Abdullah Park transit camp was trying to care for 8,000 in a facility built for 800. Refugees in the transit camp have stated that these conditions, however, are nothing compared to those in Al Zaatari Refugee Camp.
Al Zaatari is a tented city in Al Mafraq run by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN refugee agency and the Jordan Hashemite Charity organization. It is now the home of about 2,600 Syrian refugees. However, the camp has yet to gain electricity and water is scarce. Some refugees have stated that they preferred living in the shelled cities of Syria to this camp in the desert. For those religious observers, living in Al Zaatari makes observance even more difficult, particularly for those observing Ramadan.
The most challenging part of Al Zaatari refugee camp, is the weather due to the high heat, heavy winds, and dusty conditions. Dust coats everything, including the inside of the tents. Jordan representative for the UNHCR, Andrew Harper, voiced in an interview with AlJazeera, the need for prefabricated units in order to prepare the camp for winter. In fact, Jordan has been calling for international aid to help put trailers into the camp in order to improve conditions. Creating a facility that can accommodate the refugees into the winter demonstrates Jordan’s understanding of the Syrian refugee reality, this is not a crisis with an end anywhere in sight. Jordan is in it for the long haul.
Ashley Delamater is a postgraduate student studying Conflict Resolution in Divided Societies at King’s College London. She is a graduate of Michigan State University in Comparative Cultures and Politics, B.A. and has formally studied Arabic, Hebrew, and Islamic studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.