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Jordan’s moral compass

Jul 16,2017 - Last updated at Jul 16,2017

The UNHCR’s Annual Global Trends Report 2017 was understandably alarming: 65.6 million people, more than the population of Britain, were uprooted from their homes by conflict and persecution.

“On average, 20 people were driven from their homes every minute last year, or one every three seconds,” it says.

I join many in lauding UNHCR’s efforts; but I felt that their ranking of the countries that host the most refugees (Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Uganda and Ethiopia) was unfair to Jordan.

Former minister of foreign affairs Nasser Judeh was right to tweet “Where is #Jordan?”, and many Jordanians echoed this sentiment.

I am certain that the UNHCR did not intend to undermine Jordan’s great efforts to help Syrian refugees, because there are many statements by UNHCR and other UN officials commending these efforts.

The confusion probably arose because the report only counts UNHCR-registered refugees, while many Syrians in Jordan are hosted by relatives here, since many families stretch across the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Still, there is no doubt that Jordan hosts more than 1 million refugees from Syria alone, and that no effort is spared to help them by the state or by individuals.

One of the proudest moments of my life was three years ago, when my son (then 13 years old) donated the prize money he received in a music competition at school to Tkiyet Um Ali to buy food for Syrian refugees.

This year, I had the pleasure of hosting briefly two volunteers from Oxford University who chose Jordan as the place to which they would travel to work to help Syrian refugees.

The facts speak for themselves.

We should also remind UNHCR that this behaviour is not new to Jordanian society. As far back as 1870, when this land still dwelt under Ottoman rule, waves of Circassian refugees came here to escape the Russian genocide. 

I use this term in its legal sense because, between 1763 and 1864, the Circassian population of the Caucasus was reduced from over 2 million to less than 200,000, and minister of war Dmitry Milyutin declared that the goal of the campaign was “to cleanse the land of hostile elements by eliminating the Circassians”.

Jordanian farmers at the time did not know any of this. 

All they knew was that these refugees needed a year to grow crops to feed themselves, during which many of them may starve to death. 

So Jordanians fraternised with the Circassian refugees and shared with them their meagre reserves of wheat, barley, and pulses, on which they themselves depended for survival.

Subsequent waves of other refugees of overwhelming numbers also met the same welcome. 

Unlike countries of far greater resources that have not welcomed one single refugee, Jordan was guided by its moral compass.

In this country, the principles of Arab solidarity and hospitality are a way of life, not mere verbiage. 


Our reward for bearing the burden when others shirked it is that this amalgam of ethnicities enriches Jordanian society and makes it cosmopolitan.

124 users have voted.


Ali Kassay is quite right to remind UNHCR that its reports should match some of its better efforts in the humanitarian field. If it is a typo error or some other mistake that Jordan's name is absent from the list of those countries that host the most refugees it should in all fairness rush to amend its error soonest. Otherwise UNHCR please explain this glaring omission which frankly does not make any sense towards a country that is steeped in a tradition of offering a haven to many refugees. In the humanitarian field Jordan undoubtedly punches way above its weight.

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