Syrian families struggle to cope outside the protective umbrella of camps in Jordan

News Stories, 18 March 2014

© UNHCR/O.Laban-Mattei
A Syrian mother and her children arrive at the dilapidated basement building where they are staying in the Jordan capital, Amman.

AMMAN, Jordan, March 18 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Tuesday said that hundreds of thousands of Syrians forced into exile in Jordan are facing a fresh humanitarian crisis as they struggle to get by living outside the country's refugee camps.

The warning comes in a study by UNHCR and International Relief and Development (IRD), which highlights the day-to-day survival struggle of 450,000 Syrians as they face rising rents, inadequate housing and educational challenges for their children.

The report was based on 92,000 interviews conducted during home visits in 2012 and 2013, and reflects growing concern that as the Syria crisis enters its fourth year many refugees can no longer cope.

The study shows the dilemma that refugees face to survive in urban areas, despite the generosity and support that Jordan has continued to offer them, including free public health care and education.

"After escaping the horrors of war at home, hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have fled the violence and deprivation are facing a second crisis in their place of refuge," said Andrew Harper, UNHCR's representative in Jordan. "Syrian refugees in Jordan are hanging on by a thread: struggling to keep a roof over their heads and earn enough money to get by."

Almost four in five Syrian refugees in Jordan live outside the formal camps, but only get a fraction of the international attention given to Za'atri camp in northern Jordan. UNHCR and IRD staff interviewed tens of thousands of households to identify needs and help the hidden majority of refugees who live in towns and cities throughout the country.

The report comes amid indications that as the last of their assets are drying up, many families are turning to "negative coping mechanisms" to make ends meet, sometimes placing themselves at risk of exploitation.

More than 90 per cent of urban refugees in Jordan live in rented accommodation, the report said, and prices for Syrians have risen from 2012-2013 by as much as 25 per cent in some locations. Rent now accounts for almost two thirds of refugee expenditure, and has emerged as a primary concern for their well-being. Half of Syria's refugees feel they live in inadequate dwellings, including badly ventilated apartments that suffer from damp or mold.

The study also warned that 61 per cent of Syrian children covered by this study did not go to school during the 2012-2013 academic year, while five per cent who were at school reported having dropped out. UNHCR continues to directly investigate this issue, but reasons include bullying, challenges in adjusting to the Jordanian curriculum, inability to catch up, working in order to earn money for their families, and, not least, the over-stretched capacity of the Jordanian public education system.

"Syria's children have already lost their past. We cannot now allow a generation to lose its future," said Andrew Harper, UNHCR's representative in Jordan. "Syrian children in Jordan must be given the skills to rebuild, for themselves and the future of their country."

On a positive note, the report suggested Syrian refugees were becoming increasingly self-reliant. Access to legal employment in Jordan is challenging for refugees; however, the proportion of cases reporting receiving income earned from work rose from 28 per cent to 36 per cent between 2012 and 2013. The proportion reporting income from humanitarian assistance and charity decreased from 63 per cent to 49 per cent.

UNHCR and IRD continue to interview 10,000 refugee households every month in an effort to maintain a deep understanding of new or worsening vulnerabilities of refugee families. This will allow for services and activities that are targeted and will address the increasing needs of refugees, as the Syria crisis continues to deepen.

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Jordan: Syrian Refugees' Housing CrisisPlay video

Jordan: Syrian Refugees' Housing Crisis

Hundreds of thousands of refugees living in urban areas are struggling to survive. They face rising rents, inadequate accommodation, and educational challenges for their children.

UNHCR country pages

Non-Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

After Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled in Iraq in 2003, groups of refugees who had lived in the country for many years tried to leave the chaos and lawlessness that soon ensued. Hundreds of people started fleeing to the border with Jordan, including Palestinians in Baghdad and Iranian Kurds from the Al Tash refugee camp in central Iraq.

Aside from a few Palestinians with family connections inside the neighbouring country, the refugees were refused entry and free movement in Jordan. Thousands were soon stranded in the no-man's land between Iraq and Jordan or at the desert camp of Ruweished, located 60 kilometres inside Jordan.

Since 2003, Palestinians, Iranian Kurds, Iranians, Sudanese and Somalis have been living there and suffering the scorching heat and freezing winters of the Jordanian desert. UNHCR and its partners have provided housing and assistance and tried to find solutions – the agency has helped resettle more than 1,000 people in third countries. At the beginning of 2007, a total of 119 people – mostly Palestinians – remained in Ruweished camp without any immediate solution in sight.

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The UN refugee agency has launched a US$60 million appeal to fund its work helping hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people. The new appeal concludes that unremitting violence in Iraq will likely mean continued mass internal and external displacement affecting much of the surrounding region. The appeal notes that the current exodus is the largest long-term population movement in the Middle East since the displacement of Palestinians following the creation of Israel in 1948.

UNHCR has warned that the longer this conflict goes on, the more difficult it will become for the hundreds of thousands of displaced and the communities that are trying to help them – both inside and outside Iraq. Because the burden on host communities and governments in the region is enormous, it is essential that the international community support humanitarian efforts.

The US$60 million will cover UNHCR's protection and assistance programmes for Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey, as well as non-Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people within Iraq itself.

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UNHCR aims to help 25,000 refugee children go to school in Syria by providing financial assistance to families and donating school uniforms and supplies.

There are some 1.4 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, most having fled the extreme sectarian violence sparked by the bombing of the Golden Mosque of Samarra in 2006.

Many Iraqi refugee parents regard education as a top priority, equal in importance to security. While in Iraq, violence and displacement made it difficult for refugee children to attend school with any regularity and many fell behind. Although education is free in Syria, fees associated with uniforms, supplies and transportation make attending school impossible. And far too many refugee children have to work to support their families instead of attending school.

To encourage poor Iraqi families to register their children, UNHCR plans to provide financial assistance to at least 25,000 school-age children, and to provide uniforms, books and school supplies to Iraqi refugees registered with UNHCR. The agency will also advise refugees of their right to send their children to school, and will support NGO programmes for working children.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

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