Jordan, already straining from hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, is increasingly feeling the heat from its own citizens who are fed up with the growing influx.
Jordan says it is hosting more than 500,000 Syrian refugees and the authorities last week opened a new refugee camp in the Mrigeb al-Fuhud area east of the capital Amman as thousands continue to flee the war across the border.
The 13,000-acre (5,200-hectare) camp, built and run by the United Arab Emirates northeast of Amman, has 750 caravans, a hospital and a school and can accommodate 5,500 people.
The seven-million-dinar ($9.8-million, 7.5-million euro) facility was opened nine months after Jordan set up the sprawling Zaatari camp that houses 150,000 Syrian refugees outside the northeastern city of Mafraq.
Now Jordanians, who are already suffering from high unemployment, prices and inflation as well as poverty, accuse the refugees of taking their jobs and prompting greedy landlords to raise rents.
“More than 160,000 Syrians hold various jobs in Jordan, though most do not have work permits,” Hamda Abu Nejmeh, secretary general at the labor ministry, told AFP.
“It is a huge number that has a very negative impact.”
He said Syrians “are depriving Jordanians from having jobs. If this continues, unemployment will rise and our plans to help citizens work will be affected negatively.”
Abu Nejmeh said Syrians accept less than the monthly minimum wage of 190 dinars ($268, 203 euros) and work longer hours.
Unemployment is officially around 14 percent in the country of 6.8 million people, 70 percent of them under 30, but other estimates put the figure at 30 percent.
“Rents have doubled in the (northern) cities of Ramtha and Irbid. An apartment that is usually rented for 125 dinars a month now costs 250 dinars,” said Fathi Bashabsheh, who owns a housing complex in Ramtha where 35 Syrian families live.
“Around 130,000 people live in Ramtha now, including 40,000 Syrians. This is a problem for Ramtha residents who face many problems in finding jobs and renting houses and shops.”
‘Refugees in our own country’
The UN estimates that around 385,500 Syrians have sought refuge in Jordan, including nearly a quarter of a million children.
“We are extremely worried about what is going on in... Syria -- which is causing people to continue to move across,” UNHCR representative in Jordan Andrew Harper told AFP.
“We believe, unfortunately, we are going to see more Syrians seek safety and security in Jordan.”
The UN expects the number to surge to around 1.2 million by December -- the equivalent of about one-fifth of Jordan’s total population.
“I own a restaurant and I recently fired three Jordanians and replaced them with three Syrians. I pay the Syrians less while they are more professional and serious about work,” said Imad Marji, a lawyer in Mafraq.
Jordan’s Prime Minister Abdullah Nsur told parliament on Sunday that the impact of Syria’s war is a threat to the kingdom’s security and that Amman will seek the UN Security Council’s help in tackling the fallout.
“Jordanians face a lot of pressure and are very worried about the growing numbers of Syrians,” said Mohammad Abu Rumman, a researcher at the University of Jordan’s Centre for Strategic Studies.
“Statistics show that the majority do not want more Syrian refugees. The way the government manages the issue and the fact that Jordan is not getting enough aid provokes Jordanians.”
In Mrigeb al-Fuhud, which now houses 600 refugees, 27-year-old medical student Fatima said she understood how Jordanians feel.
“Hundreds of thousands of Syrians in Jordan are sharing food, water and other things with the Jordanians, who have very limited resources that are hardly enough for them,” the mother of three told AFP outside her caravan.
“If I were in their shoes, I wouldn’t be happy,” she said as her children played with toys provided by the camp management.
Hajeh, 43, who fled to Jordan two days ago with her four children, agreed.
“We understand that we are a burden. The world has let Jordan and us down. One day the Syrian regime will fall and we will go back,” she told AFP.
Jordan has in past decades given refuge to waves of Palestinian and Iraqi refugees because of regional conflicts.
“We have become refugees in our own country. I sympathize with the Syrians, but why do we have to suffer this way?” asked Ahmad, a 23-year-old Jordanian university student.