Jordan's King Abdullah says new crises overshadows plight of existing refugees

Situation precarious for refugees and their hosts in Jordan, monarch tells Global Refugee Forum

King Abdullah II of Jordan delivers a speech during the Global Refugee Forum, in Geneva on December 13, 2023. AFP
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Jordan's King Abdullah on Wednesday cautioned against wars in Gaza and elsewhere distracting from providing international assistance to the large numbers of refugees already in the region.

"As serious crises compete for international attention, the plight of refugees and their host countries has taken a back seat," the monarch said.

His remarks reflect the reliance of Jordan – a country with a per capita income of $4,300 – on outside funding, with its economy in a decade-long stagnation. The latest Hamas-Israel war has particularly affected tourism, a key foreign currency earner, compounding pressures on living standards.

"With no clear long-term commitments in flexible international funding, the vulnerability of refugees and Jordanian host communities will grow even more precarious," he said in a keynote speech to the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva, a United Nations event.

International powers can "ill afford" the consequences of this lapse, he said, adding that aid for Syrian and Palestinian refugees in the kingdom has been waning.

"With all eyes on Gaza," the king said, international powers "must recognise ... that global crises demand long-term responsibility-sharing."

The kingdom depends on western aid, particularly from the US, which is also the main donor for Syrian and Palestinian refugees in the country.

Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, the second Arab country after Egypt to do so. The three countries are the top three recipients of US aid.

About 670,000 Syrian refugees are registered with the United Nations in Jordan, as well as two million Palestinian refugees. Many of the Palestinian refugees have Jordanian citizenship and the kingdom closed its border to Syrians fleeing their country in 2014.

A large proportion of the billions of dollars in aid for Syrian refugees in Jordan in the past 14 years has gone to host communities in Jordan, aid officials in the kingdom say.

Grants pay for infrastructure in Jordanian urban centres and rural areas where refugees live. Germany, for example, pays for the salaries of Jordanian teachers who give afternoon classes to refugees.

But some aid, such as food subsidies for the most impoverished refugees, has decreased since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 partly shifted resources to deal with human suffering from that war.

The King said that "severe shortfalls" in funding for UN aid agencies have undermined "the level of services, including cash assistance, education, and healthcare" for refugees in Jordan.

"A deterioration in food security and self-reliance has become a painful reality for the vast majority [of refugees]," the King said.

A large proportion of Jordan's population of 10 million are descendants of Palestinians who fled to the kingdom when Israel was created in 1948. Others were displaced when Israel took control of the West Bank from Jordan after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

Updated: December 13, 2023, 6:32 PM