THE BLOG

The Strain From the Syrian Conflict: Jordan and the Refugees

04/01/2015 07:29 am ET | Updated May 31, 2015

While the brutal atrocities of ISIL dominate media headlines, the long-term toll that the conflict is taking on the millions who have fled their homes does not receive the sustained attention it deserves. These refugees bring with them significant unplanned financial costs and social pressures to the countries that provide them with a temporary safe haven. Lt. Muath al Kasasbeh's brutal execution early in February thrust Jordan to the center stage in international coverage. The ghastly spectacle brought to the forefront the role that Jordan plays in the fight with Daesh, as ISIL is called in the region. And as informed readers throughout the world educate themselves on the issues facing the country, the financial and social cost of hosting so many refugees remains largely ignored. For both humanitarian and political realities, the West cannot delay in supporting the refugees and their host countries. The costs of the Syrian conflict are being felt here in Jordan, imposing a heavy strain on the host community and continuing the suffering of a growing population of refugees.

In 2014, the world witnessed a rapidly changing conflict that refocused the world's attention away from the crisis areas of 2013 to the violence engulfing Northern Syria and Iraq. The plight of religious minorities, like the attacks on the Yazidi and Syrian Christian communities, and the focus placed on the Kurdish struggle against Daesh further solidified this shift in refugee movement towards safe havens in Southern Turkey and towards the east into Iraqi Kurdistan. The conflict areas of 2014 redrew the map, redirecting the flow of refugees and the flow of international funding from Jordan and Lebanon towards these two host nations. By the end of 2013, Lebanon played the beleaguered host to more than one million registered Syrian refugees living within its borders, with Jordan a close second with more than 600,000 refugees. Most media coverage revolved around the concentration of Syrian refugees living in and around Za'atri Camp in Mafraq governorate in Northern Jordan. As Lebanon and Jordan strain under the weight of their sizeable refugee populations, Turkey's influx of refugees is also growing rapidly - tripling in the past 12 months to more than 1.5 million.

This conflict shift towards Northern Syria is affecting the Turkish hosts and the dangerous possibilities facing the refugees and fighters in the region. The eyes of the world have increasingly focused on the area around the Turkish-Syrian border, but those eyes need to stay trained on the larger picture. As the conflicts move further from Jordan's geographical borders, they will indirectly hamper Jordan's capacity as a host and base for providing aid to those endangered by the continuing conflict elsewhere in the region. Jordan continues to provide a sustained source of aid to endangered citizens still living in Syria and the hundreds of thousands of refugees already in Jordan. The Hashemite Kingdom will continue be an invaluable haven for the refugees who will be effectively stateless as the conflict rages on. Following the execution of Lt. Kasasbeh, and the resulting Jordanian military action against Daesh, Jordan will also prove essential in the on-going international fight against the so-called Islamic State. Jordan's future needs to be given equal weight in coverage and, more important, the funding, of the conflict. Supporting the continued development of Jordan's infrastructure and capacity to absorb refugees is critical to ensuring future stability in the region. Strengthening Jordan's capacity will help, not only the refugees, but also enable it to adapt to the added pressures of the changing situation in the region and the expectations of their own people because refugees place both an economic and social strain on the host countries. International development funding that should be helping to develop and grow the future of Jordan have been diverted to Turkey and Iraq to care for refugees.

The arrival of the New Year brought with it the biting winter storm known as Huda, which prompted a five-day official holiday in Jordan and kept many off the streets and in their homes. The more than 80,000 refugees in Za'atri Camp in Northern Jordan and the hundreds of thousands living throughout the country had to endure the brutal freezing temperatures, as they have to deal with the harsh realities of an uncertain future. It is time to pay serious attention to helping Jordan and its refugee population.