When will Jordan get the boost it needs for refugees?

Syrian crisis is not merely about economic burden but also about demographic and security challenges

Raed Omari

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Jordanian officials’ weariness and dismay over what they always describe as the world’s “forsakenness” of their resource-poor country in the face of the Syrian refugee crisis have been unmistakably replaced by expressions of relief and easiness following the recently concluded Syria Donors Conference in London.

Syria’s donors have pledged millions of dollars in addition to soft loans to help Jordan deal with the Syrian refugee crisis, which is expected to persist for years to come. However, the Syrian refugee crisis is not merely about economic burden and budget deficit for Jordan but also about demographic and security concerns. It cannot be resolved only with money but indeed by bringing the conflict to an end.

Before the Supporting Syria and the Region Conference, held in London last week, there was a campaign of complaint and, so to speak, impeded threat in Jordan seeking to tell the world that the resource-limited kingdom has reached its maximum capacity for accepting refugees. There were also calls for reconsidering its long-held open-door policy towards the Syrian refugees if not adequately and sustainably aided by the world.

In an unmistakable expression of complaint, interspersed with criticism and warning, Jordan’s Prime Minister Abdullah Ansour, in one way or another, linked his country’s support to Syrian refugees to more assistance from the international community.

During a field visit to a refugee facility in east Jordan, days before the London conference, Ensour said: “it is true that supporting the Syrian refugees is our duty but we are doing this on behalf of the world, especially Europe … If the world supports us, then we can keep our borders open and, if not, then how can Jordan, in light of its troubled budget, be able to serve them [refugees]?”

Rising public concern following the London conference has to do with the fear that the Syrians’ problems in Jordan are to be solved at the expense of Jordanians

Raed Omari

What may have added legitimacy to Ensour’s complaints is probably the official results of the national census, which was probably meant to be announced in the capital the same day the premier was in the refugee camp. The results showed that nearly one third of the Kingdom’s 9.5 million residents are non-Jordanians.

Of the total non-Jordanian population, 1.265 million are Syrians, followed by Egyptians, totaling 636,270 representing 6.68 percent of the population and Palestinians who do not have national ID numbers with 634,182 representing 6.65 percent of the population.

But now Jordan’s rhetoric on the Syrian refugee crisis is a lot better following the London conference. Donors have pledged $700 million a year to Jordan for 2016, 2017 and 2018 to develop services and infrastructure in the fields of health, education, water and municipal services in host communities. Donors also pledged to offer soft loans worth $1.9 billion a year until 2018, in addition to grants worth $900 million over three years.

“Post-London campaign”

However, the government of Jordan is now on another “post-London campaign” seeking to alleviate the rising public concern over the demographic impact of the Syrian refugee crisis. In Parliament, Ensour had to face criticism from angry MPs who accused the government of receiving money to “settle the Syrians”, citing the premier’s use of the “Syrian component” in a speech.

Another rising public concern following the London conference has to do with the fear that the Syrians’ problems in Jordan are to be solved at the expense of Jordanians. The government unintentionally played a part by igniting such fear in its talk about creating job opportunities for Syrians which it termed as the “sustainable solution” for the Syrian refugee crisis.

A great deal of the Jordanian government’s campaign nowadays is seeking to assure the dismayed public that allowing Syrians to join the labor market would not affect job opportunities for Jordanians.

I see myself obliged here to defend the Jordanian government as the Syrian refugee crisis has proved to be a tarns-border problem facing almost the entire world and each country – naturally in the Middle East and in nearby Europe – has to share the tremendous burden. In other words, conspiracy theory has no place in this context although, even in Europe, the refugee influx has had “bizarre” interpretations.

Syrians go to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey in large numbers merely because these are close to their war-torn country and nothing else. Geography is sometimes a curse. However, angry Jordanians, who sometimes level strange charges against their government, have to look at the map and see that their country has a border line with Syria extending to nearly 400 kilometers.

However, the overwhelming economic pressure might be least of Jordan’s concerns related to the Syrian refugee crisis if compared to other accompanying challenges, including security, sleeper cells, terrorist activities and illicit drug trafficking.

On the economic level, Jordan has so far kept a patient and clam temper although with dismay. However, when it comes to security issues, the kingdom has been acting unilaterally and decisively even in the face of lack of understanding sometimes from the international community.

For example, Jordan refused to accept around 16,000 Syrian refugees stranded on the border with Syria because of their “suspicious” identities as coming from areas under the control of ISIS. Jordanian army has killed a number of infiltrators recently foiling attempts to cross from Syria into the kingdom.

To cut a long story short, in London Jordan had a message for the international community, especially Europe: “Help us be resilient enough so that we can keep the Syrian refugees before they start thinking of migrating to you.” I reckon, Jordan came back from London with assurances that its warning message was well-received.
Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via [email protected], or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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