October 15, 2017

Jordan pins cost of hosting Syrian refugees at more than $10.3 billion

Costly needs. Syrian refugees queue to register their names for employment at the Zaatari refugee camp, on October 4. (AFP)

London - Jordan said hosting thou­sands of Syrian refugees since 2011 has cost it more than $10 billion, reiterat­ing calls that the kingdom needs more aid to deal with the crisis.
In a statement released on social media, the Jordanian Foreign Min­istry said that “more than $10.3 billion” had been spent on caring for refugees. That figure included expenses in health, education and employment and on public ser­vices and subsidised food to serve refugees, it said.
Jordan estimates that almost $1.7 billion would be needed to fund refugee programmes this year.
The kingdom, which has called for the international community to do more, recently came under fire from Human Rights Watch (HRW) for allegedly “summarily deporting” Syrian refugees.
HRW said that approximately 400 refugees were being removed each month since the start of 2017 in a move that could be aimed at preventing the violence in Syria from spilling into Jordan after sev­eral armed attacks. Authorities in­sisted that any return of refugees to Syria was voluntary and that they only headed to areas in the country considered safe.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said aid deliveries to thousands of Syrians stranded on their country’s desert border with Jordan must pass through Syria.
“They are Syrian citizens on Syr­ian territory. Syria must therefore assume this responsibility and not Jordan,” Safadi said during a meet­ing with ambassadors from EU countries. Aid to them “must pass through Syrian territory,” he said.
About 45,000 displaced Syrians, mostly women and children, have been stuck for months on the Syr­ian side of the frontier near the Rukban border crossing.
“Conditions on the ground now make it possible to send aid to the Rukban camp via Syria,” Safadi said.
Jordan, which shares a 375km border with Syria, is part of the US-led coalition fighting the Is­lamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq.
A suicide bombing claimed by ISIS in June 2016 killed seven Jor­danian soldiers in a no-man’s land near the Rukban crossing. Soon afterwards, the army declared Jor­dan’s desert regions that stretch north-east to Syria and east to Iraq “closed military zones.”
UN agencies in August expressed “deep concern” for the safety of camp residents. The United Na­tions said 650,000 Syrian refugees were being housed in Jordan but the government puts the figure at around 1.3 million people.
The UN refugee agency said 93% of the Syrian refugees in Jordan live below the poverty line. Ap­proximately 180,000 of them are housed in two sprawling camps in the desert.
Fighting in Syria has claimed more than 330,000 — some esti­mates put the death toll at 475,000 — lives since a brutal crackdown by the army on protesters in 2011 spiralled into all-out conflict.
The United Nations estimated that more than 5 million Syrians have been driven from the coun­try by fighting, with the majority settling in neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan.
Jordan is reportedly pressuring Syrian rebels in southern Syria to hand over the Nasib border cross­ing in Daraa province to the Syrian Army, which is loyal to President Bashar Assad.
“I think an agreement will be reached eventually, but I can say that official negotiations have not started yet,” political analyst Fahd al-Khitan told Al-Monitor website.
Jordan frequently boasts of its record in hosting refugees.
“Jordan has always warned and sounded the alarm over the con­sequences of the world’s failure to fulfil its humanitarian and moral duty of helping refugees at home and in host countries to prevent any aggravation in the crisis and its impact on regional and global security and stability,” govern­ment spokesman Mohammad Momani said in a statement in September.
Jordanian Prime Minister Hani Mulki in September gave the green light for Syrian refugees who do not possess the required docu­ments to enroll in government schools.
More than 126,000 Syrian chil­dren received education in Jorda­nian public schools last year but 80,000 were out of school, official figures, cited in the Jordan Times, indicated.