Reflections on a Recent Visit to Jordan by the Belgium National Network Focal Point

The National Network Focal Point for Belgium, Ewout Adriaens, participated in a two-day study visit to Jordan organized by Sweden, chair of the Core Group on Resettlement of Syrian Refugees, and UNHCR on 6-7 May 2014.

The visit enabled participating delegates from Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, Sweden and the UK to get a better perspective on the situation of Syrian refugees in Jordan. The Za’atari refugee camp, the second largest refugee camp in the world, hosts approximately 100,000 Syrian refugees in a dusty desert setting close to the Syrian border, and was visited by the Core Group delegates. The delegation learned from the camp manager about the enormous challenges faced. These relate not only to logistics, but also to finding ways to build up a sense of community and to creating an environment in which the refugees, who all have their own traumatic stories, can create a life that at least resembles some form of normal living. Despite the challenges that they face, the coping mechanisms of the refugees are impressive. For example, their eagerness to move ahead is particularly evident in the thriving commercial sector, where more than 3,500 private shops have sprung up in the camp, mainly on the so-called “Champs-Élysèes”.

Eighty per cent of Syrian refugees in Jordan are not, however, living in one of the three refugee camps that exist, but in an urban environment. The delegation visited Syrian refugee families in Amman and Mafraq, close to the Syrian border. They all have their own stories and particular vulnerabilities. Although they are registered refugees who receive cash assistance from UNHCR, their children are allowed to go to school and they have access to free healthcare, living conditions remain extremely difficult, and most particularly for the poorer families. For example, many children do not go to school, but are working to help pay the rent. Even more striking however, are the feelings of desperation, anger and hopelessness. The lives of these refugees are put on hold and there are no signs that this will change in the near future.  

This visit clearly demonstrated that the needs of the more than 2.7 million registered Syrian refugees in the region are enormous. More broadly, resettlement, humanitarian admission and other admission programmes, certainly for the most vulnerable among the Syrian refugees in surrounding countries, should be a structural part of the range of solutions offered and could, the longer the conflict lasts, become a more important burden sharing instrument.     

If you are interested to learn more on this field visit or if you would like to share your experiences, feel free to contact the Belgian focal point.

Photo: UNHCR/B.Sokol