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Response to Syrian Refugee Crisis Struggles from Lack of Funds 

Syrian refugees wait in line to
register with UNHCR in Amman, Jordan

November 7, 2012

Anyone you talk with in Jordan today who is involved in the humanitarian response to the Syrian refugee crisis that now grips the region will quickly tell you that a large infusion of cash from international donor countries is desperately needed. In conversations with officials from UNHCR — which is coordinating the overall effort to help Syrian refugees streaming into the country — and in talks with Jordanian government ministries and international NGOs on the front line of providing food, shelter and medical care to refugees, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) team has heard one thing over and over this week: much more funding from the big donor nations now is urgent. More resources are needed to meet the problems the refugees face; the situation is growing worse, and their prospects are bleak as winter arrives here.

In September, UNHCR estimated that 710,000 refugees running from the destruction and violence in Syria would find themselves by the end of this year stranded in the neighboring countries of Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, in need of everything to survive. The effort to meet those needs was calculated to cost a total of $488 million, and was published in the comprehensive document called The Syria Regional Response Plan. The appeal to fund that plan subsequently went out to donor nations around the world. The international response so far can only be described as abysmal. Only 30% of the funds required have been received to date, leaving the countries hosting the refugees and UNHCR in some cases strapped for the resources to meet the pressing basic needs of the Syrian refugees, three quarters of whom are women and children.

In spite of this large failure to sufficiently help pay for the enormous humanitarian effort in the Middle East by donor nations — Europe, the United States, wealthy regional countries — the government of Jordan, UNHCR, and local NGOs like the Al Noor Hussein Foundation gamely press on daily to deliver assistance to desperate refugee families here. It is an admirable study in determination, persistence, and problem-solving.

The funding crisis in Jordan already is causing planned cuts in humanitarian relief, however. Jordan’s portion of the Response Plan was $246 million to deliver aid and assistance to Syrian refugees in this country. Without funds, there is no help.

Of the approximately 200,000 Syrian refugees now in Jordan, all but 30,000 of them are surviving not in the highly visible camp of Za’atari, but unseen in urban settings like Amman — a city of more than 1 million people — and in rural villages along country's northern border. While cities and towns present better opportunities than camps for most refugees, they also present their own challenges. It is difficult for refugees to find their way to UNHCR facilities in Jordan, and to the government and NGO support they need. Services are more easily delivered in a centralized camp such as Za’atari, but at a high price for refugees' rights, safety, and health.

The government of Jordan has embraced hosting the current Syrian and the previous Iraqi refugees in its cities and towns — an enormous humanitarian act. But the system may be breaking down under stress. Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Jordan now represent 20% of the country's total population, a staggering figure. The price of housing and rents have soared, and in some areas shelter is in short supply. Cash assistance programs for the most vulnerable refugees living in urban areas of Jordan may run out of funds. Unemployment is getting worse for Jordanians and for Syrians, putting pressure on families and communities. Refugees need extra cash for winter to pay for heat, warmer clothes, and blankets. Schools are becoming overcrowded.

The Jordanian government, facing a budget crisis of its own, has subsidized the fuel, food, electricity, medical, and public education costs of the Syrian refugees for more than a year and half since the crisis began. Dwindling financial support from the international donor countries may make it impossible for the government to continue in that unusually generous role for much longer.

Lives are at stake. Wealthy donor countries have a moral obligation to better help the host countries like Jordan and UNHCR, meet the pressing needs of Syrian refugees today.

Tweet this post: Funding is a major barrier in Syrian #refugee crisis. Updates from the border, #Zaatari #Syria #Jordan from @USCRIdc http://bit.ly/RFr5FA

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