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USCRI’s President Stresses No Support for the Continuation of Al Za’atari Camp

By: Taghreed Risheq
Published on November 7, 2012

This article appeared in Jordan's Al Ghad newspaper in Arabic. Below, a condensed English translation. 

AMMAN, Jordan — Lavinia Limon, President of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), described Jordan as a fantastic model for refugee treatment, citing its current efforts hosting Syrian refugees and its previous efforts hosting Iraqi refugees [outside of refugee camps] and within its local communities.

In an interview with Al Ghad during her current visit to the kingdom, Limon called Jordan's bailing-out system an excellent achievement... In fact, [Limon] mentioned that she would have preferred that Al-Za’atari had never opened, but instead having refugees live within local communities.

While assistance provided by the international community was given out of generosity and rapid response concerns, Limon — president of the non-governmental refugee-focused, American organization — admitted that the response was insufficient.

[Limon] asserts that Jordan was forced to establish Al Za’atari camp due to an insufficient response from the international community. Refugee numbers had increased significantly and the international community did not intervene with adequate assistance. While [many donor countries] are experiencing economic problems, [the current amount of] assistance being provided by some countries is not enough.

It is worth mentioning that [USCRI] is anti-refugee camps worldwide…[USCRI] calls for integrating refugees within communities of host countries so that they can live and work in a regular manner.

Limon praised Jordan's history of dealing with refugee crises, describing the kingdom’s past handling of Iraqi and Syrian refugees as a shining light and an example to be followed. She cited Jordan's handling of the Iraqi refugee crisis, in which Jordan avoided placing thousands of Iraqis into camps and instead allowed the refugees access to hospitals, schools, and other facilities…

Limon suggested a solution: The international community should provide more resources to Jordan so that Jordan can handle the crisis without [resorting to] camps.  She suggested that refugees' economic difficulties could be avoided if the kingdom had enough resources to bail-out all refugees and grant them permission to work.  Limon pointed out that [USCRI] visited Al Za’atari camp to explore the best possible ways to provide help to Syrians and she confirmed that [USCRI] would keep looking for better solutions for [refugees’] conditions.

Prior to the opening of Al Za’atari, Limon visited Jordan [in July 2012] and at the time, was happy to see that Jordan had not resorted to refugee camps as a solution. But now, Jordan's opening of Al Za’atari camp - which is hosting more than 40,000 refugees, most of whom are women and children - is a worrisome matter especially when there is no apparent solution on the horizon for the Syrian crisis.

Limon stated that when [refugees] are placed in camps, there is systematic destruction of refugees’ ability to [be self-sufficient] because food is distributed to them, they aren’t employed, and conditions are usually primitive; refugees often live under these conditions for generations.

Limon stated that, “We are not naïve…we have reached the conclusion that [warehousing refugees in camps] is a violation of international law…" She added, “I think the bail-out idea is excellent, although we know that there are concerns...the government will find a way [to persevere].”

To demonstrate the high cost of camps…Limon used the example of Burmese refugees in Thailand. [The refugees] have been there for more than twenty-five years and the international community pays more than twenty million dollars per year to keep them in camps. [Rather than creating self-sufficient individuals] we have spent hundreds of millions of dollars [creating] a whole generation of refugees who grew up in bad conditions without [the opportunity to] contribute to the Thai economy.

It seems that establishing camps is the cheapest solution, but in the long-term it is expensive. [Limon] reflected that under international law, refugees should be given the chance to live normal lives in exile, [including the rights to] freedom of movement, employment, school enrollment for children, owning property, paying taxes, and being treated as normal human beings.

Tweet this: Are #refugee camps the only solution? We urge an alternative during our visit w/ #Syrians at #Zaatari #Jordan

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