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Reports from the Field: Jordan

Long Days Lie Ahead

Monday, November 5, 2012

The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) team arrived safely in Jordan and has begun several busy days of visits and meetings to try to evaluate the conditions for the many refugees who have fled Syria.   The conflict in that troubled country continues to rage, as reported daily in news headlines.  It is intensifying the humanitarian crisis that already has gone on for more than a year and a half there.  By the end of this year, it is expected that more than 700,000 human beings from Syria will have fled, with no other option than to head for the borders of neighboring countries Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.  The largest number of those fleeing the violence in Syria ─ more than 200,000 – are now living in Jordan, in varying degrees of desperation and need.

In the morning, we heard about the winding down of an older refugee crisis that USCRI has been deeply involved in trying to alleviate: that of the many, many Iraqis who were forced to flee their country following the war and subsequent upheavals beginning ten years ago.  At its height, 1.6 million Iraqis streamed into Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.  The International Organization for Migration (IOM), whose Middle East operations are headquartered here in Amman, reports that the process of resettling to the United States is now on track and functioning well.  Processing times have been significantly shortened for Iraqi refugees after the long delays experienced in previous years, and rejection rates now are relatively low, IOM reports.  Over 12,000 Iraqis were resettled in the United States in the past twelve months; that number will grow to 18,000 annually this year and beyond. This is very good news for Iraqi refugees who waited patiently in limbo for a very long time.

In the afternoon, we heard about the new and urgent relief work being carried out today in Jordan to get critical, basic help to the refugees from Syria, the Middle East’s most recent group traumatized by circumstances beyond their control.  Save the Children described its long and ongoing history in Jordan providing help to refugee families.  In the current crisis the NGO is delivering key services for refugees’ survival both inside and outside the Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, distributing food, medical, and mental health care, and education especially to the most vulnerable refugees, children.  We are impressed by the very high level of professionalism and competency of all the Jordanian relief workers who we met today.

With the onset of winter coming any day, it is clear that there are dangerous, difficult times ahead for many of the Syrian refugees in Jordan, especially for the 30,000 or so living merely in tents in the border camp of Za’atari.  Having been erected only in July, it is not built for the harsh winter climate of that region of Jordan.  Winterization of the camp is going to be an issue of urgent importance, as temperatures on the desert high plain will plunge to the low 30s, with strong winds, rain, and snow common in the months ahead. UNHCR and NGOs surely will be in a race against time to meet the huge need for adapting the tents, and supplying heating and fuel materials.  Media attention focuses on the refugees in the camp of Za’atari, naturally, but 170,000 displaced Syrians in Jordan are enduring outside the camp among friends and relatives who are hosting them in urban locations and villages.  These families too will need cash assistance to meet their winter heating needs.  The UNHCR to date has received only a third of the funds it needs to carry-out its overall relief plan in the Syrian crisis.  The international donor nations clearly must do much more to give UNHCR the tools it needs.

Tweet this post: What lies ahead for #Syrian #refugees as winter approaches? Updates from the border, #Zaatari from @USCRIdc http://bit.ly/SS1wlt

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