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02/28/2013

Amman's struggle to cope with Syrian refugees

AMMAN-The growing number of Syrian refugees is putting a huge strain on the Jordanian capital’s resources as the latest UN figures showed that the cash strapped kingdom received 60,000 refugees in February alone.

Refugee camps such as Zaatari in the north are meant to serve those fleeing the civil war but 80 per cent of the 300,000 Syrians head for urban centres, including Amman, looking for jobs and housing. As a result public infrastructure is struggling to cope.

Traffic jams continue into the late hours of the night because of increased number of cars. Water supplies, always scarce, are being depleted. Many state schools are overcrowded with up to 50 students in a classroom.

Jordanians, a welcoming people who have absorbed previous waves of hundreds of thousands of refugees, including Iraqis after the 2003 U.S. invasion and Palestinians after 1948, are increasingly fed up.

Abu Mohamad, whose 11-year-old son will be enrolled in a public school with 50 other students including Iraqis and Syrians said Jordanians were also suffering.

“How can a teacher teach 50 students?” he asked. “The quality of the school will not be high.”

Outside a local charity Kitab al Sunna, crowds of Syrian women and men arrive every morning waving identity papers and begging for food gas stoves to heat dilapidated apartments where several families share a home. Many are turned away because there are not enough supplies.

“I need money for rent, I cannot work and I have five children,” said one man, lifting up his shirt to reveal a thick scar across his stomach, which he said was from shrapnel.

Staff at one hospital told the charity International Relief Committee recently that they were so overloaded, patients may have to be turned away unless the emergency room and pharmacy were expanded.

The vast majority of the Syrians arriving in Amman were poor and uneducated which meant they needed extra help, said General Ali Shukri, a former advisor to the late King Hussein.

“Jordan does not have the luxury to provide out of its own pocket,” he said. “In the long term we do not know what is going to happen because we have never seen a situation like this in the Middle East.”

At a donor’s conference in Kuwait last year $1.5 billion was pledged by various nations to help the Syrians but only $200 million has actually arrived, Valerio Amos, the top UN humanitarian chief told reporters.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres told the UN Security Council on Wednesday that Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq were paying a heavy price for shouldering the burden of the Syrian refugees.

“The refugee crisis is accelerating at a staggering pace, month after month. Countries of asylum have been very generous and kept their borders open, but their capacity to do so is under severe pressure."


Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at The Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is the author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour

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