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Setting example, but needing support

As world leaders convene in Kuwait to pledge support to address the enormous humanitarian costs of the “rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation” in Syria, it is important to recognise the invaluable contribution that Jordan is making to ensure the protection of the most vulnerable.

Since the conflict erupted, in March 2011, Jordan has received over 320,000 Syrians. This is more than any other country in the region; the figure increases by some 2,000 to 4,000 each night.

In January alone, and despite the immense difficulties of crossing during some of the harshest snow and rain conditions seen for many years, over 40,000 Syrians entered the Kingdom. The majority are children, with almost 10,000 less than four years old.

The bulk of the remaining population is extremely vulnerable: either single mothers whose husbands have been lost to the conflict, the elderly or the ill. They have fled to Jordan as they have no other option.

At the current rate of entry, over half a million Syrians could be in need of protection and assistance in the Kingdom by June 2013. This figure could again double by the end of the year. This would be a serious challenge for any more affluent country in the world, let alone one with limited natural resources and strained infrastructure.

Fortunately for those fleeing the conflict in Syria, the Hashemite Kingdom has always been at the forefront of international humanitarian efforts, often taking on more responsibilities than could possibly be expected.

Since the establishment of the Kingdom, Jordan has provided protection and assistance to persons fleeing conflict, and continues to be a role model not only for the region but also internationally. It has provided protection to Palestinian refugees since 1948, to Iraqis through both Gulf wars and now to hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have been forced to flee.

While Jordan’s generosity and traditions of hospitality are unquestioned, it desperately needs the substantive and ongoing support of the international community to reinforce this protection space.

Keeping its borders open to all those in need comes at a cost. In addition to the tens of millions of dollars spent on establishing and running Zaatari and the new camp at Mrejib Al Fhood, the government of Jordan had to use its own increasingly scarce resources to cover the costs of hosting the rapidly growing Syrian refugee population.

Schools that are already overstretched are accepting Syrian children desperate to restart their learning, hospitals short of beds and overworked medical staff continue to provide life-saving care for Syrians. Subsidised energy, water and bread are freely made available to all those in need.

According to the Government, more than $226 million in costs were incurred in 2012. In 2013, and with an accelerating refugee population, this figure will be much higher.

This by itself is another reason why it is so crucial for the international community to not only recognise the enormous pressure that Jordan has come under and acknowledge its difficult economic situation, but also to stand by and support Jordan to become an even stronger, economically secure host country that is able to guarantee the safety of refugees and at-risk populations.

It is a role that we should all support, with all means necessary, and immediately.

In addition to international support to aid agencies responding to the emergency needs, particularly in Zaatari and elsewhere, Jordan requires long-term strategic and infrastructural support.

It is only fair that the enormous demands placed on Jordan’s electricity infrastructure, schools, hospitals, wastewater plants and other essential infrastructure be compensated.

Given the ongoing volatility in the region, and Jordan  own strategically important role, it is essential that the concept of international burden sharing be translated into substantial resource support at this critical time.

I would like to emphasise that the region has a rich and generous tradition of providing protection to those fleeing violence. Jordan, which continues to be a role model, cannot, however, continue to provide this protection space without the support of its friends.

Support should not be based on short-term strategic considerations, but on a longer-term strategic partnerships providing the necessary support to host countries in the region until the displaced can return.

Indeed, it is a country such as Jordan, with its own set of challenges, that continues to set an example to the rest of the world on how to respect the needs of those who are most vulnerable and who have been forced to flee their homes.

The writer is UNHCR Representative to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, humanitarian coordinator a.i. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.