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03/22/2013

Obama is in Jordan but what about the Syrian refugees?

2013-03-22T162745Z_01_WHT69_RTRMDNP_3_JORDAN-OBAMA
President Barack Obama, left, with Jordan's King Abdullah as the U.S. president arrives in Amman. (Jason Reid/Reuters)

President Barack Obama has just arrived in Jordan, along with about 2,000 Syrian refugees who crossed the country’s northern border looking for safety. Most of them are women and children running for their lives.

The war will be on the agenda when he meets King Abdullah of Jordan but Syrians can expect few answers about what is going to happen to their lives or their country.

When I met the Jordanian government spokesman on Syrian refugees in Amman recently he told me the country needed more than $400 million this year to help the Syrians. There is little sign of that money coming. With few services available and no end in sight to the conflict, many are building new lives in Amman and turning to informal networks for basic items such as food, blankets, stoves, mattresses. Some of these groups are genuinely helping but others exploit the refugees. I met several women in Amman who complained that some of the religious organizations doing charity work were corrupt, taking a cut of the donations or asking if they had any daughters they wanted to marry off.

Turning to better known organizations such as the United Nations seems like the obvious answer. But some women told me they were too scared to register with the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, because they believed, falsley, that their names and addresses would be passed on to the Syrian government and as a result put their lives in danger.

It is hard to overstate their paranoia. Two generations of living under a system where it is best to keep under the radar than have any contact with officialdom does that to you.

READ MORE: Young girls displaced by Syria's war sold into marriage

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 author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour

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