Jordan hosts Syrian refugees but feels the strain

Refugees from Syria collect blankets and supplies from the UNHCR as they arrive at the Za’atari refugee camp on January 30, 2013 in Mafrq, Jordan.

Much of the world’s attention has focused on the disaster going on inside of Syria. But there is also a humanitarian crisis in neighboring countries that host refugees.

In the last two years, Jordan has received half a million refugees, who have brought with them particular economic consequences.

On CNN earlier this week, Senator Lindsey Graham recalled his recent conversation with King Abdullah II of Jordan.

“He’s told me and Senator McCain, ‘I’ve got 600,000 Syrian refugees. And 40,000 new Syrian kids in Jordanian schools.’ And he’s hanging on by a thread,” said Graham.

Jordan’s King is under pressure because the refugees put an additional financial strain on a country that’s poor to begin with.

Often, in countries like Jordan, a new, refugee workforce can undermine the pay for locals.

“More people coming in, willing to work for less, that tends to drive wages down,” says Courtland Robinson, an assistant professor at the Center for Refugee and Disaster Response at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

To make matters worse, as wages fall in Jordan, prices keep moving in the opposite direction. It’s a basic supply-and-demand thing; too many people competing for a limited amount of stuff.

“The prices on goods – the price they pay for water, or for rent, or for food and other items – has skyrocketed since the beginning of the refugee crisis,” says Cassandra Nelson, director of multimedia projects for the international aid organization, Mercy Corps.

She’s been on the ground with the refugees in Lebanon and Jordan, and seen the financial toll on the host countries. Nelson says, “the economic impact on the Jordanians has been tremendous and also extremely crippling for many people there.”

Over time, some Jordanians have come to see the refugees as competition and an economic threat.

Courtland Robinson with Johns Hopkins says ordinary Jordanians watch as Syrians receive better financial assistance then they get.

“People say, ‘Why are we not getting anything? We’re absolutely either destitute ourselves or we’re even more impoverished because of this influx,” says Robinson.

To help prevent tensions from escalating in an already volatile situation, Mercy Corps’ Cassandra Nelson says aid groups like hers try to strike a balance.

“We certainly are focusing on the refugee population, in terms of supplying them the basic items they need. But we also are working in the communities to help the Jordanians who are suffering,” says Nelson.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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