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Remembering refugees and host countries

Jun 18,2014 - Last updated at Jun 18,2014

Much has changed in the wider region since the last World Refugee Day commemoration, but unfortunately not for the better in Syria.

What we still hoped could be a political solution to the humanitarian crisis, permitting the return of Syrian refugees, has not eventuated.

No one is rejoicing the fact that earlier this year Jordan had to open another camp in Azraq, which could in time shelter more people than Zaatari camp.

The Geneva II peace talks have proved ineffective and another special envoy on Syria has resigned.

Compounding the ongoing Syrian conflict is the mounting crisis in Iraq, where, in a matter of weeks, we saw as much horror and displacement as we have seen in Syria.

Against this backdrop of just a few examples of regional instability, we need to again acknowledge and pay tribute to the people of Jordan for continuing the Kingdom’s exemplary tradition of offering refuge to those fleeing conflict.

Today, more than 10 per cent of Jordan’s population is Syrian.

While it is easy to believe that saying thank you is sufficient, the international community, both in the West but also in the Gulf Cooperation Council, should acknowledge that what Jordan is undertaking to protect the refugees is a challenge of international proportions.

Since World Refugee Day last year, there have been major improvements in our ability to provide assistance and protection for those fleeing violence.

Some of these improvements include extending the validity of the asylum seeker certificate from six to 12 months, same-day registration at Khalda Centre in Amman and investing $10 million in community support projects, focusing heavily on the water network infrastructure in northern Jordan.

We could not have made these advancements without the partnership of the Jordanian government and the crucial support of our donors.

Nonetheless, Jordan continues to have tremendous unmet needs and requires longer-term strategic funding aid in the spirit of international burden sharing.

Refugees are fleeing to Jordan not only because of the assistance being provided by UNHCR, WFP, UNICEF, UNFPA, countless international and national NGOs and UN sister agencies, but because of the values, culture and traditions this country represents.

Rule of law, tolerance and good governance — despite some challenges — are national principles that put Jordan in contrast to many other countries in the region.

These strengths must be reinforced and not taken for granted, lest they be forgotten.

Likewise, much more support needs to be provided to Jordanians themselves, who continue to bear the brunt of most of the challenges related to hosting and protecting one of the world’s largest refugee populations.

Jordan’s proud tradition of providing protection to those fleeing conflict can only be maintained if the international community recognises that the consequences of withholding the necessary support to refugee-hosting countries could be felt for years to come.

A funding level of just over 30 per cent mid-year does not provide comfort that the international community is taking the burden faced by Jordan and neighbouring countries seriously.

While the world is fixated on the World Cup, every night thousands of Syrians flee their country, over half of them under the age of 18.

Schools across Jordan have had to lengthen their opening times and run on double shifts; teachers are overwhelmed as their class size continues to grow.

And yet, we are happy to see refugee children attending school despite the socio-economic realities faced by families who expected to stay for two or three months, and now find themselves here three years later.

As the crisis in Syria drags on, families are arriving in Jordan in more and more desperate circumstances, carrying only their children and the clothes on their backs.

Many of them have been on the move for months, if not years, before making this final, perilous journey to safety.

Children draw pictures of death and devastation as their parents speak of sadness at losing their homes and family members, and increasing food insecurity.

The risks of failing to support Syrian refugees, and the communities that are hosting them, are too catastrophic to imagine.

On the occasion of this World Refugee Day, as the Holy Month of Ramadan approaches, let us not forget our responsibility to help Jordan help refugees.

The writer is UNHCR Representative for Jordan. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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