Jordan urges international community to help ease refugee crisis

#Refugees

Jordan has called on donors to help with the growing costs of dealing with the estimated 630,000 Syrian refugees in the country

Syrian refugees boys pushing a wheelbarrow along a road in Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan (AFP)
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Tuesday 2 February 2016 18:40 UTC
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On the doorstep of Syria's conflict, Jordan is pinning hopes on this week's donor conference in London to ease the burden on its debt-riddled economy of hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees.

King Abdullah II, one of dozens of world leaders due to attend Thursday's meeting, has warned his country is at "boiling point".

"Sooner or later, I think, the dam is going to burst," he told the BBC, pointing to strains on employment, infrastructure, education and healthcare.

Jordan hosts more than 630,000 of the roughly 4.6 million Syrian refugees, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The Jordanian government gives a much higher estimate of 1.4 million because many are unregistered.

The influx has overwhelmed the resource-poor country of 9.5 million people - including migrants and refugees - much of which is desert.

"Jordan can no longer continue to provide aid to Syrian refugees without long-term international assistance," Planning Minister Imad al-Fakhoury said on Sunday at a meeting with representatives of donor countries.

He warned the kingdom could be "forced to take painful measures that will lead to a greater influx of refugees to Europe if Jordan is left on its own to deal with the consequences of the Syria crisis".

In 2016 alone, the refugees will cost Jordan $2.7bn, according to Amman.

"We're asking the international community to help us with this sum so that we can continue to fulfil our duties towards the refugees," Prime Minister Abdullah Nsur said during a weekend visit to a refugee camp.

Jordan last year started to limit the inflow, insisting it must screen newcomers to ensure they are genuine refugees and not militants seeking to infiltrate the country.

The kingdom is now only allowing in a few dozen refugees each day after the screening process.

Jordan is dependent on international aid to deal with the consequences of the conflict in Syria as well as in Iraq, another neighbour.

Jordanian authorities say the Syrian crisis has cost the country $6.6 billion over the past five years.

Debt mountain, growth slowdown

Ferid Belhaj, World Bank director for the Middle East, pointed out that the closure of frontier posts previously used for commercial traffic has heavily affected Jordanian trade.

The influx has also weighed heavy on the jobs market, utilities and services.

Belhaj noted that the World Bank together with the UN and Islamic Development Bank had been offering Jordan low-cost finance.

But the country's debt mountain already amounts to more than $34.8bn, or more than 90 percent of its gross domestic product.

Economic analyst Mohamed Awad said the level was "dangerously" high, especially combined with a slowdown in growth from 3.1 percent in 2014 down to 2.4 percent last year.

In January, the Jordanian parliament adopted a budget of nearly $12bn for 2016, leaving a deficit of $1.27bn.

The US and Arab countries of the oil-rich Gulf are Jordan's main aid donors. In 2015, the amount totaled more than $2.5bn.

British charity Oxfam on Monday, in a "fair share analysis" calculating aid according to size of national economies, showed that several wealthy countries including France, Saudi Arabia and Russia had fallen short in their response to the refugee crisis.

In contrast Jordan and Lebanon, another neighbouring country with a huge Syrian refugee population, have given far more than their fair share, it said.

"While Lebanon and Jordan should allow refugees easy access to legal residency, jobs, education and health, they also need support with long-term development plans if they are to prevent their own people from slipping into poverty," said Oxfam's Andy Baker.