Jenny Yang is Vice President of Advocacy and Policy at World Relief. She was recently in Jordan with a delegation from Refugee Council USA to assess the situation facing Syrian and Iraqi refugees, and urges that we do more to help these refugees in their critical time of need. Three young girls were huddled under thick blankets in their makeshift, cement-walled house in a compound in Mafraq, Jordan, near the border with Syria. It was cold and rainy and they hadn’t left their compound in days. The three sisters, aged 3, 6, and 7, had fled Syria a couple years ago with their mother who feared for their safety. The father’s whereabouts are unknown. Their resilient mother dreams of returning to her homeland with her daughters, but doesn’t know when or if that would be possible.
At a time when many of us are enjoying the snow because it affords us a day off work or school, for the thousands of refugees in Jordan, it means cold, wet, and windy conditions in flimsy homes made out of plastic and metal. As a huge snow storm recently blanketed the Middle East, strong winds blew away the tents of 100 refugees in Zaatari refugee camp leaving them with no shelter in the cold rain. A recent UNHCR report found that almost half of refugee households have no source of heat and at least a quarter have unreliable electricity.
Jordan is hosting over 600,000 registered Syrian refugees, which represents approximately 10% of its population. Many fled starting in 2012 when the Syrian crisis began, and have experienced tremendous suffering, including torture, physical ailments, and the death of loved ones. The response of the Jordanian government has been generous, as many of the Syrian refugees have enjoyed free health care and education for their children.
But the refugees face new challenges as the Jordanian government is being stretched thin and recently announced they are cutting health care to the refugees as well as enforcing stricter guidelines about who crosses the border. Two-thirds of Syrian refugees across Jordan live below the national poverty line, and one in six lives in extreme poverty. While the international community has responded with robust humanitarian assistance, the situation is reaching a straining point.
Many parents are marrying off their daughters as young as 12 or 13 years old to much older men, believing such a relationship will offer some form of protection. Children are pulled from schools because they can work to provide for the immediate needs of their families. “What is the point of education,” one parent told me, “when there will be no opportunities for our children to use their education in the future?”
The violence in Syria is not expected to end in the next several years which means the refugees are faced with the ongoing dilemma of not being able to return home as well as facing real protection challenges while living in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and other host countries. The international community must do more to not just provide assistance but also burden share by resettling a larger number of Syrian and Iraqi refugees.
While the desire for many Syrians is to eventually return home, the reality is that they will not be able to in the near future, if ever. Their homes were destroyed and they face little hope of integrating in their host countries. Resettlement can be an extension of solidarity to host countries that are shouldering so much while offering hope to refugees so they can pursue the dignity of work and education for their families without the daily uncertainties and fears of having no home to live in or even being returned to Syria.
The United States has only resettled 148 Syrian refugees last year, and 32 the year before. In all, the United States resettles less than half of 1% of the world’s refugees. For countries like Lebanon, where refugees make up a quarter of their entire population, and Jordan, where the refugees make up a tenth of the population, the United States’ strong tradition of welcoming the persecuted from around the world must be expanded to receive the victims of this recent conflict, the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. Resettlement won’t solve the region’s problems, but acting sooner rather than later will alleviate the burden on Jordan and other host countries, and it will ensure a better chance for long-term stability for the refugees caught in the middle.
To learn more about how you can join us in responding to this crisis now, visit https://worldrelief.org/iraq-syria.