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Like Syria and Lebanon, Jordan has been a host country for both Iraqi refugees and Palestinians in the past decades. It has also accepted a large number of Syrian refugees since the start of that country’s civil war. However, Jordan has few natural resources, consistently high unemployment rates, and its budget is substantially dependent on foreign aid. These factors have both limited its capacity to absorb refugee populations and led to increasing public protests and calls for reform. Although not signatory to the Refugee Convention, the Jordanian government remains open to working with international actors inside its borders to address humanitarian concerns.
Current Humanitarian Situation
As of October 2014, more than 600,000 Syrian refugees had registered in Jordan after fleeing violence in their home country. This large influx has been a cause of concern within the government. Syrian refugees were initially taken to transit centers on the northern border where they could be bailed out by Jordanian nationals before joining friends or family members in host communities. However, in July 2012, Jordan opened a large refugee camp for up to 150,000 people in response to the overwhelming number of arrivals and the difficulty of providing services to what had been a widely dispersed population. Since then, a second large-scale camp has been established, as well as a smaller one run by the United Arab Emirates.
Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees are living in urban settings instead of camps, and they need support from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and its partners as the costs of food and shelter continue to rise. Donors have recognized the importance of supporting Jordanian host communities as well as the refugees, but funds have been slow to arrive.
Iraqi refugees began arriving in Jordan in large numbers in 2003, with about 30,000 currently registered with UNHCR. In recent months, however, Iraqis fleeing the Islamic State group have started streaming into Jordan. As in Lebanon, UNHCR provides lifesaving services to Iraqi refugees, but these Iraqis generally cannot obtain legal status in Jordan, nor can they return to Iraq safely. Their most likely prospect for a long-term solution is resettlement – usually a long and slow process.
Jordan’s Palestinian population is generally thought to include about half of the country’s total population. Many Palestinians hold Jordanian citizenship, and on paper they have the same rights as other Jordanian citizens. Nonetheless, there are reports of discrimination – especially in education and employment opportunities – and several hundred thousand Palestinians have been forced to live in camps by poor socioeconomic conditions. The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) assists these camp populations.