In response to the ongoing conflict in Syria, CARE has scaled up its emergency response in Jordan to address the needs of Syrian refugees and vulnerable host communities, primarily through assistance to help pay for food, housing and to keep warm through the winter. By the end of 2012, CARE had assisted more than 20,000 people.
In late March 2013, CARE Canada’s President and CEO Kevin McCort travelled to Jordan to see CARE’s work first-hand.
Can you tell us about what you saw in Jordan?
When we arrived in Jordan, the first thing we did was speak with urban refugees about what happens when they come into the city. One of their first points of reference is a CARE office. CARE has a community information centre where registered refugees are told what to expect in Amman. They provide information on what neighborhoods may have housing, how to register your kids in the schooling system, and how to access medical services. They also have an inventory of what other NGOs are working in the area that provide different types of support – psychosocial support, for example, or income-generating support.
CARE is a knowledge hub in Amman for Syrian refugees. And because it is giving effective and useful information, word of mouth is spreading through the refugee community.
The staff told me a story about how an entire busload of Syrians from another part of Jordan chartered a bus and came to the CARE office because they were told they would receive good information from them. That is extraordinary – they pooled what little savings they had just to travel to the CARE office!
One of the reasons that office is so successful is because it is actually staffed by Syrian refugees who volunteer there. So when a refugee comes in, they meet a receptionist who is Syrian like them. These are educated, articulate people who have settled into life in Amman as best they can, and they are able to advise what to do.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. We also met some of the families that had settled in recently and they were under significant stress because, although they do get some food assistance when then come into the system, the cost of living exceeds what they are getting in public support.
CARE provides a settling-in allowance when they arrive. But for the families we talked to, all they were able to do with that money was maybe make first month’s rent. They also often have debts that they had incurred just to get where they are now.
Part of the unknown story of the Syrian refugees is the amount of people that are living outside the camps. Can you tell us more about these refugees?
The urban refugees are really living on the margins. They are poor and moving into poor parts of a developing country city. They’re living in pretty rough conditions.
We saw a four-bedroom flat owned by a Jordanian family who had moved themselves into two rooms in order to rent out the other two to Syrian family. So, in a place meant for probably eight people, there are now 16. And it’s not just rooms – there are stories of people camping out in backyards, chicken coups or storage sheds. They have so little income they can’t afford decent accommodation.
One story that really struck me was of this one family we met in Amman. There was a Syrian man who landed in the Zatari refugee camp with his wife and children, and some grandchildren as well. They stayed for a while until they were able to leave and settle in the city, but when we met them, they said that things are so tough now that they may have to go back.
I had been to the camp earlier that day and so I knew the harsh conditions they had come from, and the idea that it was a better alternative to their current circumstances really brought home how tough their situation is.
Looking ahead to the future, where do you see things going?
We’re seeing a steady rise in numbers of arrivals. Some of the UNHCR people I spoke with said, because the fighting is happening at the points of exit in Syria, right now there is a bottling up of refugees who can’t get out, and the pressure is rising.
There are forecasts of an extra million refugees arriving in Jordan for the remainder of 2013 and into 2014. Jordan has only six million people and its public infrastructure is already creaking under the strain of 430,000 Syrian refugees that have come in, 450,000 Iraqi refugees that are still there, an estimated 800,000 migrant workers from Egypt, not to mention a large population of Palestinian refugees
An extra one million Syrian refugees on top of the 430,000 already there would be equal to Jordan growing from six million to 7.4 million in two years, or total population growing by nearly 25 per cent.
Imagine if the Greater Toronto Area – with its population of nearly six million people – received 1.4 million refugees. Jordan will really be stretched to the limit with an extra million people. The international community needs to act quickly.
For more information about CARE’s response to the crisis in Syria or to support our efforts, please click here.