AMMAN: Debt-ridden Jordan and the United Nations are complaining that low funds are hindering efforts to aid some 300,000 Syrian refugees in the country, hoping a donor meeting this month will be generous.
The misery of more than 60,000 Syrians was deepened last week when the worst winter storm in a decade turned their Zaatari desert refugee camp in the north into a muddy swamp, knocking down at least 500 tents in freezing temperatures.
After the storm, local Facebook activists accused Amman of not doing enough for the refugees, demanding the closure of the seven-square-kilometre (2.8-square-mile) Zaatari facility near the border with Syria.
“Together, let’s shut down the Zaatari camp and move it to a location that is suitable for living,” said a 8,350-member group on Facebook calling itself “Let’s Cooperate,” which regularly posts videos and pictures of camp refugees.
But UN and Jordanian officials brushed aside the criticism, saying the problem is not the location but the fact that the refugee crisis is stretching Jordan’s limited resources. It is facing a $5-billion budget deficit, while still awaiting aid promised to the refugees.
“I think rather than criticising the Jordanian government… the important thing is to ask the international community why they are not doing more to help… provide protection for refugees,” said Andrew Harper, representative of the UN refugee agency UNHCR in Jordan.
The country of nearly seven million people, which appealed in September for $700 million in international aid for 2012, says it is hosting more than 60,000 refugees and around 260,000 in cities and urban areas who survive either on charity handouts or on their own resources.
Some 176,000 of them are UN-registered.
Harper urged a donor conference that will be held in Kuwait on January 30 to put forward “a sustainable” aid programme.
“What we expect is a recognition of the enormous needs existing in Jordan and appreciation of what Jordan and neighbouring countries have done to assist and protect refugees,” Harper told AFP.
He called for “putting a sustainable programme of assistance for those people displaced inside and outside Syria until such time that these people can return home.”
“We have already appealed for around $500 million (for 2013) to help Jordan cope with the refugees,” he said.
Nearly 200,000 Syrian refugees are registered in Lebanon, more than 153,000 in Turkey, 69,300 in Iraq, 13,000 in Egypt and upwards of 5,000 in North Africa, according to the United Nations, which expects their number to rise to 1.1 million by June if the war continues.
Lebanon, which called in early December for $363 million to cope with the influx, decided earlier this month to keep its border with Syria open to refugees but also to seek more aid.
“The international community has promised Jordan aid for the Syrian refugees, but the majority of promises have not been kept,” Anmar Hmud, government spokesman for Syrian refugee issues, told AFP in Amman.
“We urge donors to meet their commitments and support Jordan. Help us help our Syrian brothers,” said Hmud.
He added that the kingdom, which has given refuge to waves of Palestinian and Iraqi refugees because of regional conflicts over the past decades, provides free health and education services for UN-registered refugees.
Saudi Arabia has said it would dispatch aid worth $10 million to help Syrian refugees in Jordan, while Bahrain has announced it was sending 500 caravans to replace tents in Zaatari.
“Jordan needs help to meet the needs of the Syrian refugees as the country is already suffering from economic problems,” Rima Fleihan, a member of Syria’s main National Opposition Coalition, told AFP.
“It is a humanitarian crisis that needs international cooperation. Countries that support the Syrian people should be committed to provide aid to the refugees.”