The UNHCR said a desperate lack of funding for its relief efforts in Jordan is forcing more Syrian refugees to return to their war-ravaged country, with many then hoping to travel on to Europe to seek asylum.
The head of the UN refugee agency in Jordan, Andrew Harper, said the number of Syrians leaving refugee camps in the Kingdom between July and August doubled to 120 per day. Harper expects this number to continue rising amid a $500 million shortfall in the region’s overall refugee response, which includes cuts in food assistance.
“We need at least that amount of money to provide services and protection to refugees in Jordan. It may seem like a lot, but compared to what Europe is now throwing at [their crisis], this amount of money in a country like Jordan or Lebanon means a lot,” he said. “The system here works, the infrastructure is in place, and we can deliver what refugees need. We just need resources and a political stage to do it.”
Harper added that inaction on the Syrian crisis was one of the reasons why European countries like Germany were receiving a record number of asylum requests this year, many from the millions of Syrians displaced because of the conflict raging in their home country. “Ignore Syria and ignore the refugees situation and you will see the repercussions,” he said. “I do believe that at least partially what is happening with the movement of the population towards Europe is because the international community didn’t take Syria’s situation seriously despite 250,000 people being killed and four million made into refugees … It took the refugees to take matters in their own hands before the world decided to react.”
According to government figures, 1.4 million Syrians currently live in Jordan, half of whom are registered as refugees with the UNHCR. Harper urged the government to open up Jordan’s job market further to Syrians, many of whom work informally. “People are going back (to Syria) despite the camps and services provided here because one can keep them alive, but what one needs is to give them a future,” he said. “What we are doing in refugee camps is basically keeping people alive but they need instead to go out and work, children need to go to school and have a plan and future. They need a purpose in life.”
Jordan’s official crossings with Syria are closed, forcing refugees to cross through informal passages in an eastern desert area. Only several dozens per day are permitted to cross into the country amid ramped up border security, leading Harper to call on authorities to speed up the entry process to Jordan.