EU official visits Jordan and Lebanon as Syrian refugee issue re-emerges on continent

Margaritis Schinas says Jordan is 'pillar of stability in a troubled region'

EU Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas described Jordan as 'a trusted partner'. Anadolu
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A senior EU official pledged on Tuesday continuing support for stability in Jordan as Europe struggles with waves of refugees from elsewhere in the Middle East.

European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas said in briefing to journalists in Amman that the EU has spent at least $3.5 billion dollars since the Syrian civil war in 2011 to help Jordan handle mainly an influx of refugees from Syria.

“For us, Jordan is an anchor of stability in a very volatile region, and key partner,” Mr Schinas said after visiting a Syrian refugee camp in the Jordanian desert.

Mr Schinas, whose responsibilities include co-ordinating EU policy on migration and asylum, arrived in Jordan this week. He will leave for Lebanon on Wednesday.

His trip comes amid increasing numbers of boats carrying Syrian refugees from Lebanon to EU member Cyprus, which has been lobbying the bloc to allow it to send some of them back to Syria. Major European powers, as well as the UN, have said conditions in Syria, particularly in areas controlled by President Bashar Al Assad, make it unsafe to do so.

The commission said Mr Schinas would be focusing on ways in which the bloc can help Jordan and Lebanon manage the 1.4 million registered Syrian refugees on their territory.

“Both the Jordanian state and the UN agencies make excellent use of European resources in helping refugees,” he said.

“We are here for the long run,” he said, pointing out the EU has accounted for three-quarters of $7.5 billion in international pledges made last month at a conference in Brussels to deal with the impact of the Syrian civil war in Jordan and in other countries.

Aid operations in Jordan “are big and complex”, Mr Schinas said, adding that Jordan also “has a vital role to play in regional security”.

The EU and the US have extended billions of dollars in extra aid to Jordan and Lebanon since the Syrian civil war resulted in masses fleeing their homeland in late 2011.

The war started after security forces suppressed a peaceful pro-democracy revolt. The crackdown killed thousands of people, according to human rights groups.

More than 1 million of the 7 million Syrians who fled in the past decade are in now Europe, with the rest mainly in the Asian part of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

A large proportion of the EU's Syrian refugee assistance toward infrastructure projects and public services that benefit host communities as well the refugees in Jordan and Lebanon.

Mr Schinas is one of eight vice presidents of the 27-member commission, which acts as the EU's executive. His portfolio includes countering irregular migration and anti-Semitism.

He met Jordanian Religious Affairs Minister Mohammad Al Khalayleh in Amman on Tuesday.

“We value Jordan’s model of religious coexistence carrying the message of peace,” he said.

In March, Mr Schinas said the EU could strike a deal with Lebanon to curb refugee arrivals to Europe.

The EU has made similar agreements with Egypt and other countries, centred on financial support for governments of nations seen as a potential source of another refugee influx that could destabilise Europe.

Human rights groups have criticised these deals for ignoring the need for fundamental reforms in these countries.

Despite receiving European money, Lebanese authorities have been sending Syrian refugees back to areas under the control of Damascus, which has been clawing back its influence in Beirut, with the help of Iran.

Mr Schinas is expected to meet Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and army chief Joseph Aoun in Beirut.

There is little clamour to forcibly return Syrian refugees from Jordan.

But Dominik Bartsch, head of operations for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Jordan, told The National that worsening living conditions have been a factor behind an undetermined number of refugees in Jordan trying to reach Europe through Libya.

Updated: June 05, 2024, 6:36 AM