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The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has welcomed more than 200,000 of its neighbors fleeing Syria’s long and devastating civil war. The kingdom manages services for these refugees through the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization, a government agency directly answerable to King Abdullah II. Providing aid to refugees is nothing new for Jordan; over the years it has tackled the influx of thousands of Palestinians, Lebanese and Iraqis. Now, it has added Syrians to the list.

Still, hosting destitute families presents Jordan with many challenges. Basics such as water are in short supply in a country with a fragile desert climate disrupted by occasional sandstorms. One such storm blew down tents in Za’atri camp, which is the winter home for 36,000 refugees.  On some occasions, groups of refugees have protested camp conditions. At one point, a group destroyed several structures and even set fire to a camp hospital.

The Jordanian government gets technical and fundraising assistance, including thousands of tents, from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  Andrew Harper is UNHCR’s country representative and humanitarian coordinator on the scene in Jordan. Harper spoke with VOA’s David Arnold about challenges and complexities of the aid effort in Jordan.

Andrew Harper

Andrew Harper

Syrians just keep coming

We know that there are tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands more people displaced inside Syria who may make the decision to move south where there are very close relations with the Jordanians … We’ve got Za’atri camp which is up and running and we’re expanding by the day and by the night because we are working 24/7. But we also have to be prepared for many more people to come across, particularly as winter starts hitting in Syria and the situation could become more desperate. So we may have to look at two camps; we may have to look at three camps. We can’t rest, unfortunately.”

Keeping the desert clean

One of the challenges we do have in the north of Jordan, one of the biggest problems, is that we are working in the desert and we’re trying to get water to tens of thousands of people every day. The other issue is also getting rid of the waste, the sewage, the solid waste. And this puts a messy environmental burden on the Jordanian environment up there and so, what we have to look at, is that we do not compromise Jordan’s future by aggravating the pollution potential, disruption of the Jordanian aquifers because they have been hosting refugees.

Maintaining law and order

The issue of law and order in the camp and security is an ever-present challenge. It’s not only a question of people resorting to violence against the gendarmerie or the people just trying to help. It also makes protection problems for people in the camps.  One of the issues is to try to improve the level of services, and conditions in the camp. Sometimes, we also have to be wary that there are elements in the camp who are just disruptive and we have to move them into other areas.

What can Jordan afford to do?

We can’t expect the government to do very much more because the government is running a deficit of $3 billion a year and doesn’t have very many natural resources of its own. But it has done the right thing by the international community and for the refugees by keeping its borders open. So we’ve been appealing to the international community to step forward and to assist Jordan to continue to do the right thing. It’s given everything it possibly can, but it can’t give the two things it doesn’t have: It doesn’t have money or water.

Listen to the full interview with Andrew Harper (15.17)

David Arnold

David Arnold coordinates the Syria Witness project at Middle East Voices and reports on Middle East and North Africa affairs for both Voice of America and MEV. The Syria Witness project publishes on-the-ground citizen reporting, giving Syrians the opportunity to offer to a global audience their first-person narratives of life on the streets of their war-torn country.


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