Monday, 19 August 2013

Jordan: The forgotten sanctuary

In all the recent talk and debate around arming some of the multiple Syrian rebel groupings fighting to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, the discussion has focused on military issues. How to get the weapons in? How to prevent them falling into the wrong hands? Will they be enough to topple Assad? Indeed, from the very start of the Syrian conflict, the focus especially by the West has been on its military aspects. All talk of helping the Syrian people and alleviating the suffering caused by the conflict has focused on fighting, on arming people, on trying to affect change by force as quickly as possible. At some point, helping other countries has become synonymous with violence.

There are, at last estimate, 1.7 million Syrians living as refugees outside their country, mainly in Turkey and Jordan, along with Lebanon and Iraq. Lebanon currently hosts the most displaced Syrians, with Jordan and Turkey close behind. Of the three however, Jordan faces the most serious problems arising from the influx of refugees. This is in no small part because Jordan already houses 1.9 million Palestinians and nearly half a million Iraqis, refugees from earlier conflicts. For decades, since its unsuccessful participation in the Six Day War in 1967, Jordan has been a haven of tranquility in the Middle East. The country has repaired its relationship with Israel and maintained good relations with the outside world. Until recently the economy was growing and prosperity expanding to more of the population. But there are also serious problems.

Jordan’s refugee influx from its neighbours has strained already overstretched water supplies, along with the provision of healthcare, education and basic amenities like electricity and energy. Jordan’s stability and open border policy have made it a very attractive destination for refugees, and now all the things which made Jordan a success story in the region are starting to drag it under, as more and more people flood across the country’s borders. The Jordanian population is only 6 million, barely more than Ireland’s, yet by some estimates by the end of this year over a million Syrians will be added to that. Jordan simply cannot cope with this quantity of refugees.

Rather than sending more guns to perpetrate more violence and more death in Syria, the international community, especially those countries like the US who seem to be getting more and more involved in the conflict, should focus on making a positive difference to the situation by helping these refugees and the countries sheltering them. According to a recent report by the Guardian, the United States has given $228.5 million spread across all the countries in the region dealing with refugees from Syria. Given that by some estimates the US spent over $1 Trillion on the war in Iraq, surely it can afford to give even a fraction of a percent of this sum to help Jordan, and make a real, positive contribution to a regional crisis.

If the last decade of strife in the Middle East has proved anything, it has proved that violence is never an answer to internal conflicts in other countries. The international community can make a difference right now, by sending real aid to all the countries in the region, but especially to Jordan, who are actually helping the Syrian people by sheltering them from the conflict.
The Jordanian people have opened their borders and their homes to refugees from surrounding regions. They have not turned people away at the border, despite the intense pressure being placed on their economy and their public services. And despite the fact that they are making the most constructive and positive contribution to the Syrian conflict, all the West wants to focus on is sending in guns to Syria, rather than helping them.

Jordan, along with other countries in the Middle East, is helping in a very real sense to lessen the suffering and death caused by the Syrian conflict, at great cost to itself. The real heroes of the Syrian civil war will not be the rebels, or the government, or the outside powers who armed them, they will be the countries who let in tens of thousand of frightened refugees, who clothed and fed them, who cared for them, who tried to give them the same services they give their own citizens.

If the international community and especially the West, wish to help alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people and help to limit the damage caused by the conflict, they only need to look to Jordan. The means to make a difference are already there. All the Jordanian people need is help to do it.

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