2014-12-18 14:30:00

Jordan struggles to house refugees as ISIS fears grow

(Vatican Radio) The United Nations has launched an appeal to raise $8.4 billion for the coming year, to help nearly 18 million people affected by the war in Syria. On Thursday, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, Antonio Guterres, said that people who have been displaced within Syria ``have exhausted their savings and resources.''   He added that neighboring countries like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey are bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis and “are at breaking point.''

The United Nations wants to put aside $5.5 billion of the appeal to help those countries; the rest would go in assistance to Syrians displaced at home.

The U.N.’s refugee agency estimates that more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees are currently in Jordan alone, putting considerable strain on the country’s economy and social and political sectors.  Caritas Jordan has played a pivotal role in providing for tens of thousands of asylum seekers by giving them food, clothing, shelter, medical care and other assistance.

Omar Abawi, program manager for Caritas Jordan, told Vatican Radio's Tracey McClure about their efforts in the region and the challenges the organization is facing.

In addition to the Syrians it is currently giving refuge to, Abawi says the Jordanian government initially granted permission for 5,000 Iraqi refugees to enter the country after Islamic militants swept them out of the area of Mosul.  The sudden influx of the mostly Christian Iraqis has added to the enormous pressure on Caritas operations and on Christian parishes across Jordan struggling to accommodate hundreds of families. 

Jordan is located at the center of conflict in the Middle East and as such, people see it as sort of an “island,” Abawi explains. “People flee so they can come to live in peace.” However, “Jordan cannot be like a heaven for these refugees, because there are many challenges…they can feel security, but on the other hand, there is no work, limited resources, and extra living expenses,” he said.

Refugees are not permitted to work in Jordan but they are desperate to take up odd jobs and illegal, poorly compensated employment. There is a growing sense of unease among the generally welcoming Jordanian population as jobs disappear, the cost of living rises and crime becomes more widespread.

Abawi suggests there is also a growing fear in Jordan of the so-called Islamic State militants (Isis or “Daesh”) expanding their terror operations to what has been a peaceful nation. He observes that countries of the Middle East have a regional responsibility “to make Isis disappear” or at the very least, to cripple it.  “If there is a threat from Isis to Jordan, it [would] really be a disaster because it’s the only place for refugees in the Middle East,” he says. Even Lebanon—a country that for a while was considered secure in comparison to many other areas in the Middle East—is no longer entirely safe, he notes, as Isis has now established a strong presence in some areas, particularly in the north.

In order for there to be peace in the Middle East, Abawi feels that it is of critical importance that the region learns “how to accept Christian minorities.” He notes that Jordan’s King Abdullah has long championed the continued presence of the Mideast’s Christians, applauded their contributions to the region and encouraged interfaith dialogue. 

“To have a secure Christian minority in the Middle East,” Abawi says, “you have to find Middle East partners—Muslim partners—to work with each other to have…coherence; peace coherence.” Such coherence, he feels, will create a much needed and long awaited balance in the region which for so long has been plagued by conflict and violence. 



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