Jordan, a safe haven for refugees since the start of the Syria crisis in 2011, hosts the third highest number of Syrian refugees. The majority lives in cities, while others reside mainly in Azraq and Zaatari camps. Despite the added strain of the refugee influx on Jordan’s economy, communities continue to live in relative harmony. Life has recently become harder for refugees and vulnerable Jordanians due to the coronavirus restrictions. The EU is a big contributor of aid, helping Jordan to care for the refugees and host communities.
According to the UN, 86% of Syrian refugees outside camps in Jordan live below the poverty line. Most Syrian families rely on humanitarian aid to meet their basic needs at a time of aid cuts and economic crisis, compounded by the coronavirus pandemic. In refugee camps, essential services have been maintained and safety measures put in place. However, urban refugees and host communities struggle to access basic services and earn an income. Instead of going to school, some refugee children are sent to work or get married at a young age.
With strict measures imposed by the Jordanian government due to COVID-19, access to refugee camps is highly controlled. Leave and work permits have stopped being granted to Syrians in camps, especially after a rise of COVID-19 cases in Azraq and Zaatari. This has also led to the closure of schools and community centres.
Some 10,000 people are stranded in a no-go military zone on the north-eastern border, in the informal settlement of Rukban. Its population consists mostly of Syrian women and children. Since the coronavirus outbreak, stranded people do not have access to lifesaving health and nutrition services in Jordan anymore.
With limited prospects of returning to Syria, refugees need better access to social services, healthcare and economic opportunities to become more self-reliant.
Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, the European Union has channelled roughly €3.2 billion to Jordan through humanitarian, development and macro-financial assistance. Of this, humanitarian aid amounts to over €390 million for the provision of services including healthcare, food, multi-purpose cash assistance and other basics such as shelter, water and sanitation, education, psychosocial support and protection. In 2021, the EU has mobilised €15 million in humanitarian assistance, the same amount contributed last year.
Humanitarian aid goes to refugees living in Zaatari, Azraq and the Emirati Jordanian refugee camps, as well as Syrian refugees and refugees of other nationalities in urban settings and in Rukban. The provision of essential services in villages and towns across the country also benefits vulnerable Jordanian families. Various programmes address the specific needs of women and children who make up more than half of the refugee population.
Since the first reported coronavirus case in early March 2020, EU partners have been closely monitoring the epidemiological situation inside the refugee camps, under the leadership of the Ministry of Health. They have also stepped up prevention and preparedness measures and trained the staff of health facilities. Awareness campaigns have been undertaken, also ensuring refugee families have protection and hygiene products.
To address educational needs, EU-funded programmes ensure quality schooling for vulnerable children, including those with disabilities. Innovative approaches are used to help out-of-school children find their way into the formal education system. The aim is to achieve inclusive education and an environment that systematically protects vulnerable children. Since schools remain closed until further notice, home schooling has been supported through creative tools and follow up via phone, video and chat services.
Syrian refugees in Jordan without updated documentation are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. The lack of official documents limits their freedom of movement and prevents them from entering the labour market and accessing essential services such as healthcare and education. The EU is therefore supporting the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and a consortium of partner organisations to help regularise the status of refugees without proper registration for themselves or their family. Although the pandemic has changed the face of communications, registration teams continue to operate remotely, using innovative technologies and secure procedures.
Mutual commitments exist between the EU and Jordan following pledges made at a London conference in 2016 and the Brussels Syria conferences that take place yearly from 2017 to 2021. The Brussels conferences have been successful at mobilising international financial support for Syrians and the host communities, both inside Syria and in neighbouring countries.