JIF: Keeping up momentum, one year after Jordan Compact
April 3rd 2017
This op-ed was originally in the Jordan Times
Since the beginning of the Syria crisis, in 2011, Syrians have been forced to flee their homes at the rate of more than three per every single minute of the past six years. The 22.3 million displaced Syrians and neighbouring host communities that the international community serve are a stark reminder of the reality of this crisis.
While superlatives are rarely an accurate depiction of the true scale of a humanitarian crisis, the Syria crisis has challenged each and every humanitarian worker — morally, practically and psychologically. The world is meeting in Brussels this week to discuss the future of Syria, and how to continue assisting an ever-growing number of people affected by the crisis and its ramifications. The future support to the economic growth and stability of Jordan and the protection needs of the millions of displaced Syrians within the region need to be at the core of such discussions.
Any country that witnesses a demographic increase of 10 per cent of its population in just six years and the dissolution of regional trade would feel overwhelmed and on the brink of implosion. Implosion not so much because of the presence of Syrians, but because of the decrease in commerce with Syria and Iraq, loss of traditional incomes such as tourism and pressure on public services that need to adapt in a way that was not foreseen. These losses cannot be offset by the generous contributions from the international community alone, and the government of Jordan is forced to increase levies which feed into public resentment that undermines social stability and cohesion.
The path to a vicious circle is perfectly laid out, and there are very few alternatives.
As a coordination body representing 54 international NGOs (INGOs) working in Jordan, we have seen the drawing of red lines that have become crimson at times. Our attempts to convince decision makers to embrace a response based on the principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality have been futile at times when their growing preoccupation was with stopping Syrians from reaching any shores.
The authorities and people of Jordan have exerted an amazing effort and display of hospitality to cope with the impact of the crisis and accommodate hundreds of thousands of their neighbours. Praising Jordan for its efforts must also come with a reality check. The facts remain: an astonishing 87 per cent of Syrian refugees in Jordan are living below the national poverty line, child labour and early marriages are on the rise as resources become scarcer and at least 45,000 Syrians are stranded at the northeastern Jordanian border with scant resources, unable to move in either direction. There must be a renewed sense of accountability from all actors to save our generation from the shame of having done too little too late.
In the face of all of this, there has been cause for hope at times.
One year after the groundbreaking Jordan Compact, presented at the London conference, which aimed at boosting economic growth, improving Syrian refugees’ economic situation and access to education, the Brussels conference serves as a useful platform to take stock of progress made and identify ways forward. It should also be an occasion to acknowledge the government of Jordan’s creative leadership and boldness behind this plan, and it is important to emphasis successes while understanding shortcomings that need to be addressed.
While a third of Syrian refugee children are not enrolled in schools, there has been important progress to increase their access to education, such as the opening of 198 double-shift schools across the country, and large teacher training programmes rolled out, which resulted in approximately 27,000 new Syrian students enrolled in formal schools in the 2016/7 academic year. In terms of livelihood, Syrian refugees living in camps can now obtain work permits —free of charge — for work outside of the camps and job-matching initiatives are starting to connect Syrians to available jobs. Overall, over 41,000 Syrians have already received a work permit, bringing them out of the informal sector. Economic and social growth where all groups residing, permanently or temporarily, in Jordan can be included and benefit is the only way forward for the country.
This includes continued access to economic opportunities for refugees, access to quality education and protection of refugees’ legal status, which I see as three elements to be used in a future response to the Syrian crisis in Jordan. The government of Jordan needs to continue its policy and structural reforms to make it happen. But the government cannot do this alone. The international community must step up its financial and technical support.
Now is the time to show leadership, vision and humanity. Syrian refugees and their hosts in countries like Jordan deserve no less.
The writer is country coordinator for Jordan INGO Forum, which is a network of 54 international NGOs that programmed over $326 million humanitarian and development assistance throughout Jordan in 2016 and had over 4,400 Jordanian staff. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.