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 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 coronavirus restrictions. The EU is a big contributor of aid, helping Jordan to care for the refugees and host communities.
According to the UN, 81% of Syrian refugees outside camps in Jordan live below the poverty line: almost 6 in 10 Syrian refugees of working age are unemployed. Most Syrian families rely on humanitarian assistance to meet their basic needs at a time of aid cuts and economic downturn compounded by the coronavirus pandemic. In contrast to the camps where essential services have been maintained during the outbreak and safety measures put in place, urban refugees and host communities are having difficulty accessing basic services and earning an income. Families are resorting to cutting meals, spending less on other essentials and going into debt. Even in normal times, some refugees send their children to work instead of school or find obstacles to enrol them in formal education.
Some 10,000 people continue to be stranded in a no-go military zone on the north-eastern border with Syria, in an informal settlement called Rukban. Its population consists mostly of Syrian women and children. Since the coronavirus outbreak, humanitarian access to the settlement has been denied.
With limited prospects of returning to Syria, refugees need better access to social services, healthcare and economic opportunities to help them become more self-reliant. Access to work permits remains a serious obstacle, pushing refugees into informal and insecure work.
Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, the European Union has channelled roughly €2.7 billion to Jordan through humanitarian, development and macro-financial assistance. Of this, humanitarian aid amounts to over €375 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. Vulnerable people have also received specific humanitarian support during the harsh winter months. In 2019, the EU contributed with €20 million in humanitarian assistance and allocated €15 million in 2020.
Humanitarian aid goes to refugees living in Zaatari and Azraq 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 health facilities’ staff. 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. During the coronavirus outbreak, 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.
Mutual commitments exist between the EU and Jordan following pledges that were made to address the Syria crisis at the London conference in 2016 and the Brussels conferences in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. The Brussels conferences have been successful at mobilising international financial support for Syrians and the host communities, including humanitarian aid both inside Syria and in neighbouring countries.