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The case for housing refugees near to Syria

18 September 2015

Madeleine Davies reflects on her visit to well run refugee camps in Jordan earlier this year


Orderly: the Nobel Peace Laureate, Malala Yousafzi and her father Ziauddin walk in Azraq refugee camp, in July

Orderly: the Nobel Peace Laureate, Malala Yousafzi and her father Ziauddin walk in Azraq refugee camp, in July

SHORTLY before I went to Jordan this year to visit Syrian refugees, I read the country’s response plan: 200 pages of detailed projections and calculations that culminated in a request for $2,991,736,900 (note the precision) to enable the country to accommodate more than 600,000 Syrian refugees, and, importantly, cope with the impact on the communities hosting them.

In contrast with the chaos and recriminations that have characterised the arrival of the refugees in Europe, and despite the recognition in its pages that public services "threaten to buckle", this document, with its colour-coded charts and neat tables, offered cool-headed reassurance. "I have every confidence that, through our joint efforts, we will be able to achieve the objectives," the Minister of Planning and International Co-operation, Dr Ibrahim Saif, wrote in his foreword.

What I saw in Jordan impressed me (News, 30 January). At a school in Zarqa, more than 700 Syrian children were being educated in double shifts. A new refugee camp at Azraq had been built to house 130,000 refugees, and was, at the time, only ten per cent full (it is currently home to 23,000).

In contrast to the sprawling Zaatari camp, thousands of neat white portable cabins were laid out across the desert landscape (News, 13 March).

The Archbishop of Canterbury is right that poor conditions in camps act as a "driver" for attempts to reach Europe, but most refugees in Jordan are living in poor host communities, unable to work and desperately worried about their children’s future.

It makes sense for Syrians to remain in the region. Although homesick, those whom I met spoke of Jordan as "a brother". A shared language means less disruption for children’s schooling.

The refugees whom I met remained hugely patriotic. When I asked one boy, Mohammed, about his dreams for the future, he told me: "Nothing. I just want to go back to Syria, and guide people back to their homes and houses."

This week, the activist Nimko Ali, who arrived in the UK from Somalia as a child in the 1980s, told the BBC about her "struggle with dual identity", and suggested that a peaceful Syria had "a lot more to offer children — history, culture and identity — than coming over here.

The initiative "No Lost Generation", launched by the UN and charities two years ago next month, sounds hollow today.

The UN’s appeal is just 37 per cent funded. World Vision has warned that the shortfall had led to "drastic measures", including significant cuts to food aid.

As of this month, 229,000 of the 440,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan living outside the camps have been cut off from World Food Programme aid. Despite the concern in the West, no donors have come forward to reverse this.



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