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Syrians fleeing to Jordan's towns are "falling through the cracks"

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 5 Apr 2013 18:54 GMT
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LONDON (AlertNet) – Syrians fleeing to towns and cities in neighbouring Jordan are getting cut off from aid and falling into debt, two British charities said on Friday as the United Nations warned it was running out of cash to cope with the huge influx of refugees.

Around two thirds of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have sought safety in Jordan in the last two years are living in urban areas, which makes it harder for them to get help.

Some are resorting to borrowing or even begging as rents soar and their savings run out, Oxfam and CARE said. Tensions are also growing with Jordanian communities as resources become severely strained.

Research by the two aid agencies shows that average levels of debt among urban refugees is $650 – the equivalent of about three months' rent.  

Many are living in overcrowded apartments, garages or shacks, with as many as 20 people sharing two or three rooms. Much of the accommodation is unheated or unfurnished.

“The refugee crisis in urban areas is far less visible, but no less serious, than in the refugee camps. No matter where refugees seek shelter, we must ensure that they do not continue suffering,” Geoffrey Dennis, chief executive of CARE International UK, said in a statement.  

Rents have doubled or trebled in the last year because of the huge demand. The price of food and other basic goods has also risen as fighting in Syria has disrupted supply routes. A pack of nappies is now 5 dinar ($7).

More than 1 million Syrians have fled the country since civil war erupted two years ago. The exact number in Jordan is unclear but at least 367,000 have sought registration with the U.N. refugee agency. The Jordanian government says it is hosting up to 420,000 Syrians.

The U.N. children's fund UNICEF warned on Friday that the figure could rise to 1.2 million by the end of the year – equivalent to about a fifth of Jordan's population.

AMAZING GENEROSITY

Around 100,000 Syrians are living in the gigantic Za’atari camp in the middle of the desert, which opened about eight months ago.

But most refugees have opted to live in cities or towns in the hope of finding work or because they have friends or relatives there. Others who arrived with savings have preferred to rent rather than live in the camp where conditions are very harsh.

Aid agencies are struggling to meet demands at Za’atari, now the fourth biggest city in Jordan, with 1,700 new arrivals a day. The camp is very exposed, there is no shade and temperatures can fluctuate dramatically.

“So much of the focus has been on Za’atari – it’s so visible, it’s huge, the needs are enormous,” Oxfam spokeswoman Caroline Gluck said in a telephone interview from Jordan. “But we feel many of the refugees living in the community cannot access basic help, they are so widely dispersed as well and they are in danger of falling between the cracks. They are not visible.”

Gluck praised Jordan for keeping its borders open and stressed that Jordanians had been “absolutely amazing” in their generosity, giving refugees items such as fridges, blankets and carpets.

Schools in the capital Amman are also staying open at night for Syrian children with teachers doing double shifts.

But Gluck warned patience was wearing thin as the sheer numbers put a strain on health and education services as well as water supplies and other resources.

“The government is to be commended for what it is doing, and people have been extremely generous. But they need more support from the international community to carry on assisting these people.

“Without that we are going to see increased tensions between Jordanians and Syrian refugees which could have quite worrying implications,” she told AlertNet.

Gluck said there had been recent protests in Mafraq, near the border, where the local community was becoming increasingly resentful and anxious.

She said she had also begun to see refugees begging in the street.

“One lady told me she had started three weeks ago. She has six kids and her husband is in Syria and it’s the only way she can look after the children. She was carrying her daughter … and looked desperately in need of help,” Gluck said.

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