‘Syrian refugees outside camps are facing greater challenges than before pandemic’

(Photo: Jordan News)
AMMAN — While global attention has moved away from Syria’s decade-long crisis, Syrian refugees in Jordan are finding it harder to access the necessities of daily life.اضافة اعلان

Less food, less education, worse healthcare, worse shelter; a recent report by the UNHCR found that Syrian refugee families in Jordan living outside the camps are facing greater challenges than they were before the coronavirus pandemic.

Last month, the UNHCR published the preliminary results of its Vulnerability Assessment Framework (VAF), a survey of the refugee situation carried out every two years. The agency visited 4,546 Syrian refugee households with close to 23,000 people over 16 weeks in 2021.

It also visited Syrian refugees in the camps and non-Syrian refugees outside the camps who had not been previously surveyed by VAF. The survey found that Syrian refugees outside the camps were having a much harder time feeding themselves.

In 2018, a vast majority of Syrian refugee families surveyed outside the camps — 88 percent — had an “acceptable” diet. By 2021, that number had fallen to 55 percent.

Other aspects of life deteriorated as well. A majority of Syrian refugee families outside the camps surveyed in 2021 were found living with leaking roofs, in unsafe conditions, or lacking windows and ventilation. And slightly over half reported that they could not access healthcare when they needed it.

It was in sharp contrast with 2018, when 62 percent of Syrian refugee families outside the camps lived in “acceptable shelter conditions”, and only 38 percent could not access needed healthcare.

Although the massive camps at Zaatari and Azraq are the most visible symbols of Jordan’s refugee crisis, a vast majority of Syrian refugees in the Kingdom live outside the camps. In total, 541,643 Syrian refugees are registered with the UNHCR in Jordanian cities and towns, a much greater number than the 131,309 people living in the camps.

In a statement to Jordan News, UNHCR press officer Lilly Carlisle pointed to the coronavirus crisis as causing “an increase in vulnerability among refugees in Jordan”.

“The majority of refugees are earning an income from employment and continue to be self-reliant, not dependent on humanitarian assistance,” she said.

“But this is not enough to keep them out of poverty. As a result, debt among refugees has skyrocketed, which is having a knock-on effect on their living conditions.”

The rate of Syrian refugees in debt increased by 25 percent from 2018 to 2021, the UNHCR survey found. The most common reason for going into debt was paying rent. The second most common reason was healthcare.

“Many refugees are paying their rent and bills on credit, but when these options run out, they risk being evicted from their homes and having to move to poor-quality shelters with leaking roofs and broken windows,” Carlisle explained.

The UNHCR found that 18 percent of Syrian refugee families outside the camps had been threatened with eviction in 2021, compared to only 8 percent in 2018.

Carlisle added that “refugees in Jordan are able to access the national health system and public hospitals at the Jordanian non-insured rate”, but even those costs are “beyond their financial means”.

Despite all the challenges, “refugees have shown remarkable resilience” throughout the pandemic, Carlisle pointed out.

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