Supporting Refugees and Host Communities: A Holistic Approach to Foreign Assistance in Jordan

Posted by Chelsea Lord
October 20, 2016
A Jordanian teacher talks to Syrian refugee students at school in Amman, Jordan. [AP Photo]

The Syrian civil war is one of the most violent and complex conflicts in the world today -- the effects of which we see and feel globally as refugees embark on perilous journeys in search of safety and the international community strives to broker a political solution. In August, I traveled to Jordan for a graduate class with students from Georgetown, American, and George Mason Universities to learn more about the conflict and to engage in field work with some of the 656,000 Syrian refugees registered with the United Nations and the Jordanian government.

We studied, observed, and practiced non-violent conflict management and mitigation techniques such as citizen diplomacy, civil society capacity building, and women’s empowerment with refugees and host communities. We heard from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that provide legal aid and other services for refugees, and worked with an organization that runs several informal schools for Syrian children. From this experience, I could see how the engagement of students and volunteers like us with refugee communities can be effective on a one-on-one, personal level. However, in zooming out to take in the larger picture of this conflict, and the millions of people affected by it, my interest was sparked to learn more --  what we are doing at the macro level to complement these types of grassroots efforts?

Students from Georgetown, American, and George Mason Universities volunteer with Project Amal ou Salam at an informal school for Syrian refugee children in Jerash, Jordan. [State Department photo]

Humanitarian aid is providing relief and assisting those forced to flee their homes.  Since the start of the Syrian conflict, the United States has provided more than $5.9 billion in humanitarian assistance through multilateral and NGO partners to support lifesaving medical care, food, shelter, and water, sanitation and hygiene efforts, as well as to support protection, education, and livelihoods programs for those vulnerable populations both inside and outside of Syria. Specifically in Jordan, U.S. government humanitarian assistance for Syrian refugees, provided by the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), has amounted to nearly $814 million since 2012.

Visiting a psycho-social rehabilitation center for Syrian refugee children in Amman, Jordan. [State Department photo]

It is important to note that emergency humanitarian aid must be complemented by medium and longer-term assistance. An estimated 80 percent of Syrian refugees in Jordan live in urban areas, outside of camps. Urban refugees face different challenges from camp refugees, including securing shelter and food, finding work, and accessing basic social and medical services. Foreign assistance may play a dual role in furthering development goals as well as in helping support host country governments facing dramatic increases in the need for public services.  For example, through USAID in Jordan, U.S. foreign assistance is expanding 120 existing schools (20 of which are accelerated “fast track” expansions), renovating 132 schools, and building 25 new schools, targeting areas with large numbers of Syrian refugees.  Additionally, the United States is providing $25 million to the World Bank Concessional Finance Facility to finance economic development and municipal sanitation projects in Jordan at reduced interest rates. Such efforts are desperately needed in a country where a significant portion of the population is refugees, to ensure that development gains are not lost and opportunities are seized.

Brainstorming workshop ideas to empower and engage Palestinian and Syrian adolescent girls at a women’s center in Zizya, Jordan. [State Department photo]

On the ground I saw first-hand how the combined efforts of spirited Syrian and Jordanian activists and aid workers, international donors, host communities, and the Jordanian government are working together for the greater good to provide for vulnerable populations. But, the Syrian conflict and refugee crisis have become protracted. During the trip multiple sources stressed their concerns that international attention and aid would eventually dwindle, and tensions between refugees, aid workers, and host country communities would increase without sufficient external assistance. This is why it is important to remember the real impacts that our foreign assistance can make in the lives of real people. With assistance and support, our global community will remain resilient.

About the Author: Chelsea Lord serves as a Country Coordinator in the Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources at the U.S. Department of State.

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