Originally published on tmrw at: tmrwmagazine.com/an-in-depth-look-at-the-refugee-crisis-in-jordan/
It’s safe to say that the focus on the refugee crisis in the past few months has stayed pretty much on Europe. Rather than where the actual conflict is happening. Instead, our minds are focused on eu deals, the Calais “jungle” and Cameron once again putting his foot in it with his “bunch of migrants” comments. And to all those people who say “bunch” isn’t an insult, it’s what I use to describe inanimate objects, so no, it’s not great. But Jordan, a neighbouring country of Syria, is also receiving press coverage for their new restrictions on refugees.
Syrian refugees have become stranded in what is called a “no man’s land” across Jordan’s border as the government are limiting the amount of refugees to be let in. Around 16,000 people have been left in this desert area, including hundreds of pregnant women. It has been reported that 17 babies have been born there since mid-December, despite no medical facilities. The government is struggling to cope with the continuing influx of refugees, and are also worried that the group may have been infiltrated by ISIS, which has led to these new border controls.
But many have been quick to criticise Jordan’s actions. Adam Coogle, the Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch, said people don’t need to be held in this rocky desert, stating that Jordan’s two refugee camps are not at their maximum capacity. Coogle also stated thatJordan’s government also probably don’t want their country to seem “open, especially as other countries have closed their borders”. This highlights another issue, demonstrating a ripple effect of countries tightening up their rules on letting in refugees. When one country decides to restrict refugees coming in, it puts pressures on other countries who will see their number of refugees increase. It also gives them an excuse to tighten up their own borders – who can criticise when another country has already done it? By the same hand, this indicates that if a country let in more people or provided more aid, others will follow. Sounds a bit like playground politics? But the rules we were taught when we were ten about being role models and acting how we want to be treated still ring true.
So can we really be so quick to judge Jordan? Political and economic deterioration means they have struggled to cope with the influx, but this is after letting in refugees. Cameron has already refused to let in 3,000 unaccompanied children Syrian refugees. Europe may like to think itself on a high pedestal, making it easier to judge other countries actions. We’re not as ‘forward-thinking’ as perhaps we like to believe, and we have left Syria’s neighbouring countries to bear too much of the Syrian conflict and refugees.
The refugee crisis also hadn’t just begun now. Of course it has got considerably worse, particularly with the recent fighting in Aleppo city intensifying. But it actually began in 2011 as part of the Arab Spring, with many Syrian refugees going to Turkey and Lebanon. They also started going to Jordan, with the first Syrian refugees seeking sanctuary in Jordan by mid-2011. By December that year, they were reaching 1,500. It sounds cynical to say, but are we only really discussing the crisis now as it’s reached us?
Jordan has officially taken in 630,000 refugees, a number equivalent to 10% of their population. Whereas the first 1,000 Syrian refugee only arrived in the UK last December. We are expecting a lot from these neighbouring countries, yet not shouldering as much responsibility as we should be. That 630,000 is also how many Syrian refugees are registered, but actually, sSyrians make up around 21% of Jordan’s population. Mazen Homoud, ambassador of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to Great Britain, notes the panic in Britain when the uk had 228,000 migrants come over 12 months back in june 2014, which is only 0.3% of the population. Just a little bit different then.
Jordan’s been helping for a long time, with the Za’atari camp being the first official refugee camp to open in July 2012, where new refugees go. It is also now one of the country’s largest cities, with around 79,000 Syrians living there. Jordan has also tried to give refugees a sense of “community and security” with the opening of the camp Azaq in april 2014, which uses steel caravans instead of tents, has a supermarket and organised “streets” and “villages”.
We can’t now only focus on the fact that Jordan is tightening up their borders, ignoring the help they have been giving for years. Economically, Jordan is now struggling, with its debt having increased to 91% gdp in 2015 from less than 70% before the Arab Spring. But the prime minister of Jordan has still said tens of thousands of Syrians would be able to work in the country if the international community gives aid to its economy. Jordan is currently asking for $1.6bn over three years to fund schools, healthcare and other services. This is to aid with the stretch made on these resources due to their help in resettling Syrian refugees.
So while Europe’s been busy making the refugee crisis into a European crisis, Syria’s neighbours have been dealing with it for years. Criticising Jordan over tightening up their borders seems harsh considering countries across Europe are partaking in the exact same thing, but without the years of help Jordan’s already given. Now it is Europe’s time to take on their role and own responsibility.