For Syrian Refugees in Jordan, Welcome Might Be Wearing ‘Thin’

BY Larisa Epatko  February 15, 2013 at 9:00 AM EDT

The conflict between anti-government and regime forces in Syria — pushing two years now — has forced hundreds of thousands of Syrians from their homes and created a humanitarian nightmare for aid groups and others trying to help them.

Click on map for U.N. refugee statistics by country

 

As of Feb. 12, nearly 205,000 Syrians in Jordan had sought help from the U.N. refugee agency and other aid groups, and the number keeps rising.

Alexandra Brosnan, advocacy officer for the International Rescue Committee, visited Syrian refugees in Jordan at the main Zaatari camp in Mafraq, and those housed in other cities in Jordan along the Syrian border, in November. (Read about IRC’s findings.)

“When we were there, we saw a desperate situation where the host government and communities were doing their best to respond to the crisis, but we saw that the need was overwhelming,” she said.

About one-third of the refugees were in camps, but another 70 percent were spread around in cities along the border, making it harder for aid groups to find them and quantify their needs, she said. Because of the high rents, Brosnan said sometimes two or three families were squeezed into one-bedroom apartments.

And for the Jordanians who have taken in families, the length of the conflict is taking its toll. “We saw the host communities opening their doors, but at that time (November) we were beginning to see that the welcome might wear thin,” she added.

Clinics also are straining — not only addressing the immediate needs of Syrians injured by the war, but helping those with pre-existing maladies. Schools in Jordan are bulging with the influx of Syrian refugee children as well, she said.

Jordan’s King Abdullah pleaded for help from the international community at last month’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“I cannot emphasize enough the challenges that we are all facing, both in Jordan and Lebanon, and it’s only going to get worse,” he said, quoted the New York Times. “What we’re asking from the international community is not just to help us with the refugee problems and their challenges as they face this harsh winter, but also stockpiling in Jordan so that we can move supplies across the borders to keep people in place.”

The United Nations has sought $1.5 billion in aid for Syria — $1 billion for host countries supporting refugees and another $500 million to help Syrians within the war-torn country. Foreign governments met that goal in pledges at a donor conference last month in Kuwait. The United States has committed $365 million.

Meanwhile, the refugees are itching to go home. “We heard that over and over again: They want to start rebuilding Syria. It really pains them what’s happening there,” said Brosnan.

But even if there were a political solution tomorrow to Syria’s crisis, Brosnan said, “we’re worried refugees might not stream back immediately” because so many parts of the country are no longer livable, making the refugees’ temporary homes and means to earn a living all the more important today.

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