Syrian refugees and asylum-seekers began fleeing the insecurity of their home country and entering Jordan in March of 2011. The UN estimates that there are more than 515,000 Syrian refugees residing in Jordan. Most are in towns and villages in and around northern cities including Irbid, Ramtha and Mafraq. At least 120,000 refugees live in the Zaatari camp and thousands of others are in transit camps in Cyber City and King Abdullah Park. The Jordanian government and UN are building a new camp at Al Azraq which is expected to host 190,000 Syrian refugees.
Jordanian host communities are trying to meet the needs of their Syrian guests, but they are struggling as scarce resources are stretched to the limit. Finite water supplies, lack of jobs, soaring food and fuel prices, increased housing costs and a strained municipal system have become tension points.
In the camps, lack of infrastructure, including places for children to play and outlets for productive youth activities, contributes to refugees’ frustration. The suffering of Syrian refugees in camps and host communities is exacerbated by the intense summer heat.
Mercy Corps has worked in Jordan since 2003, addressing critical challenges such as increasingly scarce and expensive water and energy supplies alongside the growing needs of vulnerable people, including those with disabilities, women, youth and refugees.
Our team is able and ready to respond to local and refugee needs and is focusing on four areas for emergency aid and early recovery: improving the water supply, renovating shelters, supporting the most vulnerable (including children and people with disabilities) and mitigating conflict in host communities. We also are working with local partners in Jordan to distribute toys, blankets, clothes, books and other non-food essentials.
Supplying — and conserving — water
Since 2006, Mercy Corps has worked in Jordan to relieve communities of the stress of water scarcity. The demand for this work has only increased as the Syrian conflict forces refugees over the border into host communities and camps that lack reliable water sources.
In the Zaatari camp, we drilled two deep wells and constructed a pump station and chlorination system, providing clean water for up to 75,000 refugees. This new water system will remain after the refugees return home, increasing the water supply of local communities.
In Al Azraq camp, Mercy Corps plans to address water needs by constructing a new water supply system.
We’re also renovating the municipal water systems of Mafraq and Ramtha to eliminate leakages, which is expected to result in a 25 percent increase in water availability for 400,000 people.
In addition to increasing the water supply, conservation measures — collecting household rainwater, recycling grey water and constructing reservoirs — are also needed. With support from UNICEF and the US Agency for International Development, Mercy Corps has programmed $25 million for water interventions.
Providing shelter and non-food items
Syrian refugees arrive with little more than the clothes on their backs. Many of them have taken shelter in low-cost housing with dirt floors and crude siding that offers scant protection from winter's cold and summer's heat.
Mercy Corps has been modifying homes in host communities to withstand the extreme weather conditions by installing doors, windows, window shades and improved insulation. In addition, we are installing water tanks and fixing sanitation facilities to cope with water scarcity.
Mercy Corps is distributing essential non-food items to Syrian and Jordanian households including: clothing, blankets, mattresses, pillows, hygiene supplies, gas heaters and a three-month gas supply.
To ease the suffering of refugees with disabilities, injuries and chronic disease, we are providing assistive and mobility equipment as well as referrals to groups that provide rehabilitation services.
Building safe spaces for kids to play
More than half of all Syrian refugees in Jordan are children under 18. In our experience, sports release pent-up energy and frustration while facilitating the psychosocial well-being that’s vital for people fleeing conflict — and the social development of conflict-affected children.
Since August 2012, in partnership with UNICEF, Mercy Corps has constructed five multi-use sport courts in Zaatari camp, Cyber City and King Abdullah Park as well as four new playgrounds in Zaatari camp and Cyber City.
In addition, we are providing structured activities for young people, including movies, arts and crafts, and storytelling. Our teams plan to expand these activities in Al Azraq camp to include psychosocial programming for youth.
Reaching children with special needs
Most recently, Mercy Corps has expanded a program to help at least 350 Syrian, Jordanian and Iraqi children with disabilities integrate into the Jordanian public school system. Thanks to a grant from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, we are working with the government to add 300 special needs teachers, improve accessibility and increase educational resources in 30 public schools that have a high concentration of Syrian refugee children.
Easing tension in host communities
The everyday lives of Jordanian citizens and their Syrian visitors in Mafraq and Ramtha have deteriorated to the point where the basics of life — food, shelter, water — are becoming luxury goods to be fought over. Tensions have emerged.
Mercy Corps has initiated efforts to address these growing difficulties. We're focusing on increasing conflict resolution skills among Syrian and Jordanian community leaders to address local tensions, build consensus around common problems and initiate joint efforts to solve them.
Training and coaching for community leaders will come from Iraqi conflict resolution experts who have experience with similar tensions and the local context. Through small grants, Syrians and Jordanians will work on joint community projects that address sources of instability in their communities. With support from the UK’s Department for International Development, we are launching a $500,000 program in six Jordan communities hosting Syrian refugees.