It has been a terrible couple of years for Syrians who were murdered, had their houses destroyed, and were unable to earn enough money to feed their families. Many have left to Jordan, the only safe haven in a troubled area full of bloodshed and chaos.
There are almost a million refugees there, a third of them are in the United Nation camps. The biggest Al-Zaatari camp has become the sixth biggest city of Jordan. The United Nations have done a good job of setting them up, providing basic salaries for them and giving them a smart card coupons system to get necessary food. The other supportive NGO’s have also supported the refugees with other accessories so that playing grounds for children and toys are quite common within the camp. While everyone is happy that we were able to alleviate some of their hardship we haves failed to see the negative result of this support on the local communities in Jordan.
Mafraq, a previously small village filled with bedouins has become a large town where the majority are Syrians. The streets of this town are now ruined by the constant passage of heavy trucks that deliver water and food to the camp, the waste disposal process has been overwhelmed by the large influx of people into that town, the hospitals are filled all the time and the schools work two shifts just to support the extra demand.
The Syrians have taken many jobs meant for Jordanians for very low wages just to supplement their UN salary. Yesterday, a riot broke at the camp which led to the injury of 22 policemen and many Syrians as some families decided to illegally escape from the camp into Jordan to earn a better living and get more of those limited jobs. The food, heaters and even the tents they got from the UN are being sold on the side of the main road to the camp to bring in an extra income. This however has put many small Jordanian shops who sell such items out of business.
The medicines that were barely enough to support the Jordanians in the local villages of the north are now never enough. Most Jordanians are disgruntled about the decline of level of education in their schools and the long lines in their clinics to get only a small portion of the medicines they need. The Syrians are quickly outstaying their welcome in this hospitable country that initially empathized with their struggle for democracy.
It is a difficult situation but solutions are also available. A work permit for Syrians (like Egyptians) would help channel the jobs that Syrians take into the fields that are needed in Jordan. For example, there are many Syrian skilled laborers (e.g. carpenters, plumbers) that are badly needed in Jordan and would enrich the Jordanian economy but taking the few other jobs that Jordanians are desperate for will only bring bad feelings among two neighborly nations.
The UN can buy health insurance for the refugees so that the Jordanian ministry of health gets some funding for the support it gave and has been giving with little international support. NGO’s can help build new schools in the north of Jordan to support the Jordanian government that is struggling to make ends meet after a downturn in the local economy for the last three years as a result of the Arab Spring.
The international community has been quite supportive of Jordan’s role in the Syrian crisis but the financial support has been less forthcoming. Jordanians are realizing that even if the Syrian issue is resolved in the next three months, it is unlikely that the refugees will go home in the coming three years. This is built on previous experience with Palestinian and Iraqi refugees who are still in Jordan decades later. The current situation cannot continue as is. I hope Jordan’s friends can financially help Jordan so it can fix its roads and create more jobs for its people. More importantly, I hope the UN will take heed and play a proactive role in controlling the refugees situation in Jordan before it leads to more unwanted strife and hardship in the area. Only this time the UN will be blamed.
Deema I. Alam