Children's feet as they stand in line at Azraq Refugee Camp
In Jordan and other countries neighbouring Syria, national plans and UN support aim to empower refugees and support generous host communities. UNICEF photo


As the second Brussels conference on Supporting Syria and the Region approaches, the time is opportune to shed a light on the issues faced by one of Syria’s neighbours, Jordan, and the country’s efforts to address them.

Though its situation by no means compares to the horrors visited upon Syria, Jordan, like other countries neighbouring Syria, is coming under growing strain from the fallout of the crisis on the country’s economic, environmental, political and social security.

Jordan is a generous host country under strain

In the last seven years, like other neighbouring countries, Jordan has stood out as remarkably generous – hosting today as many as 1.3 million Syrian refugees, according to government officials – including the 661,000 who have officially registered as refugees.

This solidarity has been impressive; however, we must be clear that it also comes at a cost: Not only has the crisis slowed Jordan’s economic growth, government officials estimate that hosting refugees has drained over US$10 billion from the economy and been a contributory factor in pushing public debt towards 83 percent of GDP.

Strains on natural resources are equally dramatic. Even before the crisis, Jordan was one of the five most arid countries in the world – now water demand has increased by up to 40 percent in some northern governorates, where the majority of refugees from Syria reside.  Social tensions arise among communities competing for employment, opportunity and resources. To date, relations between communities have remained cordial with Jordanians continuing to welcome and support Syrian refugees. However, with no end to the conflict in Syria in sight, the implications of prolonged displacement may well start to unsettle Jordan’s delicate economic and social balance.

Progress achieved but more support needed

Given the complexity and protracted nature of the crisis facing the region, the Government of Jordan and the international community have been clear that a new type of response is required – a response that challenges both perception and paradigm by presenting refugees not simply as passive recipients of assistance, but rather as agents of their own destiny; and a response that also addresses the needs of host communities.

Two significant frameworks outline the government’s needs and the international response: As agreed at the London Conference on Supporting Syrians and the Region, in 2016, the Jordan Compact seeks to engage and empower Syrian refugees, by extending access to basic services such as education and health, and affording opportunities to work, set up businesses and acquire new skills.

This framework is complemented by Jordan’s national chapter of the Regional Refugee and Resilience Programme (3RP), a framework co-chaired by the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, and bringing together the work across the region of 270 humanitarian and development partners. The 3RP seeks to reinforce the Jordan Compact by addressing the emergency needs of refugees through the broader lens of national resilience and development.

The humanitarian-development nexus in action

Key to this thinking is the importance of maintaining a cost effective and multi-sectoral humanitarian response that targets highly vulnerable refugees while concurrently reinforcing Jordan’s development priorities.  Going forward we aim to advance Grand Bargain commitments in making better use of national structures and services, and working more extensively through national and local responders. We aim to capitalise on the extraordinary progress made to date whilst adapting our programming approaches to ensure our support remains relevant and impactful for thousands of Syrian and Jordanian households.

As of April 2018, close to 92,000 work permits have been issued to Syrian refugees since the first London Conference. In the field of education, some 130,000 Syrian refugees have been enrolled in Jordanian schools, and 209 schools are operating double-shift rotations to accommodate refugees. In terms of social protection, more than 400,000 refugees or 78 percent of those eligible have been issued with cards issues by the Ministry of Interior entitling them to seek and access work.

This is important momentum–but, without continued support, Jordan’s status as a model of stability in an otherwise fractious region is at risk.

Given the multiple overlapping challenges the Kingdom is facing, and indeed Jordan’s extraordinary leadership in crisis response, the international community should continue to support processes that strengthen national capacities, ownership and leadership, and cost effectively deliver a needs and rights-based approach that responds to the needs of all of Jordan’s population, with a particular emphasis on women’s economic empowerment.

Brussels II a chance for renewed commitment for refugees and resilience

The upcoming Brussels II Conference presents a timely opportunity to shed light on the current situation both in Syria and across the region. As co-chairs to the conference the UN has worked alongside the EU in drafting a 2018 Partnership Paper that reiterates the commitments of both the international community and Government of Jordan in responding to the vulnerabilities that exist in Jordan. The continuing needs of refugees are of course reflected in these commitments as are those of other vulnerable groups. The Partnership Paper also underscores the commitment of government, the UN and the wider international community to embrace a new way of working, bring humanitarian and development work into stronger alignment, and reinforce Jordan’s development agenda.

Like other countries neighbouring Syria, Jordan has exercised a vitally important role in the region and the world today. It merits additional support to not only continue to empower refugees, but to sustainably support the many vulnerable communities who continue to generously host them.

At the United Nations in Jordan, we are committed to doing our best to support a brighter future for Jordan – we urge international partners to join us in supporting this generous country at a time of growing strain.

About the author

Anders Pedersen is UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Jordan. Follow him on Twitter: @AndersP_UN
 

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