As the civil war in Syria continues unabated, Jordan has contributed substantial and generous assistance to Syria’s refugees. As of March 2018, Jordan hosts over 655 000 Syrian refugees — 51% of them children. The vast majority, some 80%, live in cities and towns, while the remainder resides in mainly two refugee camps. One of these, Zaatari, is the world’s second largest camp with close to 80 000 residents. The influx of refugees from Syria, and of people fleeing the conflict in Iraq, has put substantial pressure on Jordan’s over-stretched resources at one of the most difficult economic periods in the country’s history.
A recent UN report has found that more than 90% of registered Syrian refugees in urban areas have fallen below the Jordanian poverty line, with over 67% of families living in debt. With their savings depleted, many now face poverty. While a considerable number of refugees have obtained work permits, a majority of Syrian families rely on humanitarian assistance to meet their most basic needs. At the same time, increasing shortages of essential aid are worsening their plight. As a result, families have been forced to cut out meals, spend less on healthcare and take their children out of school, and sending them to work.
Meanwhile, a generation of Syrian refugee children has been unable to access formal education. At the same time, refugees cite education for their children, boys as well as girls, as a top priority.
Following a 2016 terrorist attack near the Jordan’s border with Syria, the Jordanian army declared the northern and northeastern border with Syria as closed military zones. As a result, some 50 000 people, mostly women and children, were left stranded in a remote border area known as “the berm” with limited access to food, water and humanitarian aid. Humanitarian access to the area remains difficult due to security risks and border closures, and international aid organizations have been unable to resume the delivery of humanitarian assistance with any regularity.
Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, the European Commission has channeled roughly €1.2 billion to Jordan through humanitarian, development and macro-financial assistance. Of this, humanitarian aid amounts to over €340 million, providing services such as health, food and basic needs assistance, winterisation support, shelter, water and sanitation, psychosocial support and protection programmes. The aid has benefitted refugees living in the Zaatari and Azraq refugee camps, as well as Syrians in urban settings and at the berm. The provision of basic services in villages and towns across the country also includes vulnerable Jordanian families. Specific programmes support women and children’s needs as they account for approximately 51% of the total refugee population. To address the education needs, the EU has initiated a programme that will ensure hundreds of Syrian children complete primary and secondary education in Jordanian schools.
Syrian refugees in Jordan without updated government and UNHCR paperwork risk deportation, which limits their freedom of movement, as well as preventing them from accessing basic services including healthcare, education and the labour market. The EU has supported the UNHCR and a consortium of partner organisations in the government’s efforts to regularise the civil and/or legal status of refugees lacking proper registration. A final decision was taken on 4 March 2018, when Jordan formally began to regularise the status of urban refugees without permits, offering them greater protection.
In 2016 and 2017, a set of mutual commitments were adopted by which the EU and Jordan will fulfil the pledges to Syria and the region they made at the London conference in February 2016 and at the Brussels conference in April 2017. The objective is to improve the living conditions of Syrian refugees in Jordan and vulnerable Jordanians. The agreement for the period from 2016 to 2017, known as the “EU-Jordan Compact” is worth at least €747 million, including €108 million in humanitarian aid and €200 million in macro-financial assistance. Furthermore, the EU and Jordanian government in 2016 agreed to simplify Jordan’s export requirements to the EU, provided that jobs are offered to Syrian refugees alongside Jordanians. To date, over 91 000 working permits have been delivered to Syrian refugees.