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Supporting Jordan

Aug 21,2017 - Last updated at Aug 21,2017

Today marks a milestone where the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan again stands at the forefront of meeting the challenges the war in Syria has wrought on its neighbours.

I had the honour, as UNHCR representative to Jordan, to travel with the minister of labour to officially inaugurate the new Zaatari refugee camp employment office, a collaborative effort which will allow refugees to take the next step in rebuilding their lives, providing a push forward in mobility for refugees.

The government of Jordan now issues work permits, which also allow refugees to leave the camps and work formally in communities and cities across the country; this initiative is warmly welcomed by UNHCR.

Zaatari Camp, close to Jordan’s northern border with Syria, has become emblematic of the displacement of Syrians across the Middle East following its establishment in 2012.

Over time, the camp’s evolution from a small collection of tents into an area of over 80,000 people reflects both the needs and aspirations of the camp’s residents, and a transition to a more predictable, cost effective and participatory delivery of assistance.

Arriving in exile without belongings or capital, refugees have not left behind their wealth of experience, skills and desire to provide for their families.

Refugees should not be defined by what they have experienced through war and flight, but also by what they can rebuild and contribute if given the opportunity.

The increased mobility of refugees and the opening of the employment office are strong symbols of that opportunity; it is a model of cooperation and solidarity in the region and beyond, highlighting unique synergies between government departments, the International Labour Organisation and its sister UN agencies and the private sector.

This journey had its beginnings in London in February 2016 during the “Supporting Syria and the region” conference, where the government announced the Jordan Compact, in recognition of the enormous hospitality provided to Syrians in the country, as well as the increasing strain such hospitality placed on a nation with its own issues and needs.

The Jordan Compact heralded an ambitious and courageous shift in approach, with economic growth, resilience and stability at its heart, and a call for investing and supporting the needed link between humanitarian action and development cooperation to benefit both hosting countries and refugees.

It is encouraging that one year on, at the follow up conference in Brussels, in April 2017, achievements are visible, including increased enrolment of Syrian children in education and a reaffirmation of long-term political and financial support to the country from the international community.

Jordan continues to generously host over 660,000 Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR.

The two camps of Zaatari and Azraq are home to up to 140,000 people, while the majority of Syrian refugees are living amongst the Jordanian population in cities and towns across the country.

As time in exile continues, so does the increasing urgency to take steps towards a sense of normality, and the need to re-establish the dignity that comes from having a job or economic activity.

This is beginning to happen, with nearly 60,000 work permits issued and renewed by the Ministry of Labour since early 2016.

Encouragingly, refugees have also begun to find work in factories and agriculture, including small numbers of women.

UNHCR is working in close cooperation with partners in the development, public and private arenas to set up projects and partnerships to turn these permits into routes to self-sufficiency.

The Kingdom has thankfully not seen refugees as only a burden to be borne, but also as an opportunity that can bring benefits for all, if managed in a practical and pragmatic way.

The sustained support of the international community is vital; Jordan cannot be left to foot the bill alone after six years of Syrian crisis.

UNHCR depends on the strong support shown by donors, and we continue to advocate that this support remain robust and linked to longer-term investment.

Even when the conflict in Syria finds an eventual conclusion, the vast reconstruction investment needed to allow people to return in safety and dignity means there are no short-term solutions. 

We remain committed to supporting Jordan in the care of refugees, and thank in particular the people of Jordan for their hospitality, patience and inclusivity.



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

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