The view from Jordan: Helping Syrian refugees
March 19, 2012 by Luan Meraku
|Syrian refugee women peer out from their temporary home in Jordan. Photo: Reuters/Ali Jarekji, courtesy Trust.org - AlertNet|
Their living conditions are dire. Nine members of a Syrian family I met last week are packed into just two rooms. While they are grateful to the Jordanian family who opened their home to them in the border city of Ramtha, it’s difficult. They have access to a bathroom, but there is no kitchen, so they cook outside over a wood fire. They’ve been here for three months, when they fled fighting in their southern Syria hometown of Deraa. It was dangerous journey; they feared being turned back at the border crossing from Syria, so crossed illegally by walking across the desert. All they could carry were clothes and cash. Today, they have a handful of blankets and little food. Their diet is built on macaroni supplied by a local aid agency. And with the value of the Syrian currency dropping by half in the past year of fighting, everything is now twice as expensive.
No one knows for certain how many refugees are now in the Kingdom of Jordan. The low figure is the approximately 5,000 who have been registered by the UN refugee agency. The highest figure is 80,000, supplied by the Jordanian government. And our humanitarian colleagues at Doctors without Borders, who have a staffer posted at the border crossing, say anywhere from 40 to 60 Syrians are now crossing daily. Unknown numbers of others are illegally crossing the porous, desert border elsewhere. The disparity in numbers appears based on the fear that many refugees have of being identified publicly. They’re worried that family back home could be targeted, or when they themselves return, concerned they may suffer retribution. Most have found temporary shelter in the border cities of Ramtha and Mafraq, where they’ve rented apartments or are living with Jordanian families. The majority have come from in and around Deraa, where the fighting began a year ago, and where fierce clashes resumed last week.
The International Rescue Committee has been working in the Kingdom of Jordan since 2007, when we responded to a wave of refugees pouring in from neighboring Iraq. Today, we face new challenges in Jordan, supporting those who’ve already fled Syria, and preparing for a further influx. In recent weeks we’ve boosted our presence in Jordan, and are planning on opening a field office close to the border, where most of the refugees are settling. More members of our Emergency Response Team are arriving, and carrying out assessments so we know how best to serve and provide for those in need. We are now planning our first distribution of aid in the next two weeks, and are looking at providing longer-term support, initially in the form of medical assistance and rental subsidies.
As with every emergency response the IRC undertakes the challenges loom large. This is not the classic refugee scenario, where those in need are clustered together in camps. Here, they are spread out in both urban and rural areas. Simply finding them will be challenging, and given their fear of retribution, persuading them to register them for support may be difficult. But the current need is obvious, and with fighting ramping up again in Deraa, my colleagues and I fear the influx of Syrian refugees crossing into Jordan could soon become a flood.
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As violence engulfs Syria, the IRC is mobilizing to assist displaced people along the Syrian border. Your donation will help deliver shelter, medical care and other critical aid to Syrian families in need.