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A Jordanian worker walks among the tents at the Zaatari Camp, the first official Jordanian camp for Syrian refugees fleeing violence in their country. © Khalil Mazraawi - AFP
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Munir Atalla
Last updated: May 6, 2013

Jordan and the refugees

Banner Icon Refugees It is a testament to how shaky things are everywhere else that people are forced to capitalize on the only resource Jordan seems to have enough of to go around: stability, writes Munir Atalla.

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has been called the melting pot of the Middle East. Since 1948, Jordan has been accepting a variety of refugees into its borders. Some have assimilated, and others have taken citizenship. Few have returned, and many are still in the same refugee camps where they first settled. With every conflict in the region, Jordan gets new asylum seekers.

Most recently, Syrians have been streaming in by the thousands. The harboring kingdom has been past capacity for some years, but somehow manages to scrape by. Although border control has been stringent about 140,000 refugees have already been accepted. Thousands more are expected in the coming months. Tent camps are sprouting up along the northern border, adding pressure to the already strained infrastructure of the nation. Many are expected to return, but (hypothetically) in their place will come the supporters of Assad’s defeated regime.

There is no end in sight to the refugee question in Jordan, and the country is far from ideal itself. A stagnant economy has been aggravated by a blazing summer with rolling blackouts and water shortages. The only redemption is that this buffer state has had only a fraction of the political unrest seen in other parts of the Arab world. It is a testament to how shaky things are everywhere else that people are forced to capitalize on the only resource Jordan seems to have enough of to go around: stability.

UNHCR are five letters refugees are used to seeing. The United Nations High Committee for Refugees is trying to register as many refugees as possible, but with approximately 400 refugees arriving daily, it is a difficult task. Being registered qualifies refugees for long-term service, indicating that many families don’t see a near end to their asylum in Jordan. Without long-term international support, assisting all of the refugees would be impossible.

"Jordan is providing the land, the water, the electricity but what we need is money, it's as simple as that," the UNHCR's Andrew Harper told BBC. "Jordan is full," he continued. "Aside from the Syrians, there are still Iraqi and Palestinian refugees here."

Tents made of a grey tweed-like material line a sandy plane in northern Jordan. This is Bashabsheh refugee camp, the eerie exile of thousands. Not long ago, tents similar to the ones seen in Bashabsheh held Palestinian refugees. Over time, the tents became shelters, and the shelters became permanent. Here, Syrians pray that they will be able to return to their homeland as soon as possible, as soon as some likeness of stability has returned.

Munir Atalla
Munir is a Palestinian-Jordanian currently at Tufts University. He is a columnist at OpenDemocracy. Munir worked as an intern at the Your Middle East office during the summer of 2012.
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