The refugee crisis is continuing to grow in magnitude as the root causes of this crisis remain unanswered. Neighboring countries to the current conflicts in Iraq and Syria bear most of the burden of harboring those fleeing, especially Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. Most of the refugees who seek shelter in neighboring states do not settle in camps, but in cities, despite not being able to legally work and gain an income. These refugees are often overlooked both by the media, larger aid organizations, and by their host governments. At CRP we work every day to tell the stories of the urban refugees we serve. This is our perspective on the refugee crisis in Jordan and how this is directly related to the issues currently affecting Europe.
Where are they coming from?
A common misunderstanding of the refugee crisis is that most refugees are coming from just Syria. The Syrian Civil War definitely attracts the most media attention, but as the Guardian reported, more than 1 in 3 refugees come from war torn countries other than Syria, including Afghanistan, Somalia, and Iraq. At CRP, we help refugees in the Hashimi Shamali neighborhood of East Amman, home to a large Iraqi population as well as a growing Syrian community. However, CRP helps people regardless of their nationality or religious affiliation. It is this sense of acceptance and community which sets the work we do apart from other organizations within Jordan.
According to the New York Times, most Syrians fleeing the war are still displaced in the region, and most have never even attempted the dangerous journey to Europe. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, 1.8 million Syrian refugees have gone to Turkey, over 600,000 are in Jordan, and one million have landed in Lebanon. Jordan also hosts over 50,000 Iraqi refugees who are registered with UNHCR. The great majority of both the Syrian and Iraqi refugee populations within Jordan are urban, meaning they do not reside in camps such as Zaatari or Azraq, while most of the aid, both international and national, never makes it to the cities.
Why do they leave?
Broadly speaking, sectarian issues between governments and insurgents in both Iraq and Syria have led to ongoing violence in the region. This violence targets civilians who have no interest in the conflicts, but nonetheless have little choice but to flee.
Many refugees begin as internally displaced persons (IDPs) because leaving their country of origin is rarely desirable. Resettling one’s family is daunting, especially when career and housing prospects are scarce and language barriers exist. Syria alone harbors 7.6 million IDPs and Iraq 4 million, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. Conditions have quickly escalated from bad to worse in the region. Official civilian casualties have exceeded 100,000 according to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, though it is conceded that the actual toll is likely much higher. This violence against Iraqi and Syrian civilians to flee their beloved homelands has grown so severe that their last resort is now their only chance for survival.
What is it like after leaving?
Even after arriving at their destinations, refugees face significant challenges. In refugee camps, living conditions, sanitation, and access to medical care are poor. Over crowdedness is also a recurring problem as is violence in camps across the world. Local laws often prevent refugees from obtaining work permits, giving families little chance to leave the camps.
Most refugees, though, do not end up in camps. This trend is even more dramatic in Jordan, where 82.5% of Syrian refugees are urban refugees, and 28% of all refugees in Jordan are living in Amman. However, life for this inner-city families is also very difficult. The UNHCR reports that, “…two-thirds of refugees across Jordan are now living below the national poverty line, and one in six Syrian refugee households is in abject poverty.” The same is also true for urban Iraqi refugees who are not allowed to work and must live off of whatever they brought with them from home, if anything.
Refugees also face racism, social stigma, and most importantly, a loss of identity. For some the treatment they face as well as the realization that they cannot provide for their loved ones or live a life of normalcy is bad enough that they aim to head back to the war-torn countries from which they came. Even in neighboring countries, refugees are blamed for domestic problems and experience racism. In Egypt, the media has demonized refugees and incited anti-refugee sentiment. In Lebanon, according to Al-Arabiya, “A recent survey showed that 82 percent of Lebanese accuse Syrians of stealing their jobs, while 70 percent would be uncomfortable even sharing a meal with them. More than 54 percent of Lebanese believe their country should close its borders to Syrians altogether.” Even in Jordan, locals fear that their economy and low numbers of natural resources cannot support refugees and thus may resort to violent practices against them. Just because refugees have escaped the terrible situations of their homelands does not mean they do not have significant struggles.
What does the future hold?
Even as these crises worsen by the day, the world remains silent. The human right to freedom of movement is denied to many asylum seekers and refugees fleeing violence and war back home. While refugees would love to return to their home countries, this is often impossible with the reality of the situation on the ground. However, sometimes rather than continue to live a life with seemingly little meaning in their new host countries, desperation and a sense of hopelessness drives refugees back to lands of civil war and strife. We must, as a human family, move forward in a way that celebrates reform, inclusion, and diversity, especially including refugees of all religious backgrounds and nationalities who are humbly asking for our help.