With little end in sight to the eight-year Syrian civil war, refugees that have found themselves in Jordan have little prospect of returning home any time soon, says Anders Pedersen, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Jordan. We talk with him about how the UN is working with Jordan to prepare host communities to cope with a foreseeable future alongside long-term refugees, and how the Rules of Origin scheme should, he believes, be given more time to bear fruit.
How do you assess Jordan’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis and what support does the UN bring?
It’s amazing to see how a country in the most volatile region in the world has been able to keep this level of development, peace, stability and security. We largely support Jordan in being able to meet the challenges put on the country as a result of the Syrian crisis, particularly with the presence of 1.3 million Syrians, of which we estimate 657,000 registered refugees in the UN. Give or take, we are a $950 million operation in Jordan today, largely addressing the specific needs of the Syrian population as a way to support Jordan in meeting the challenges of the Syria crisis.
What is your outlook of the refugee crisis?
Unfortunately, there are few signs that this situation in Syria will change for the better in the near future. On the contrary, what we’ve seen over the last three months is actually a worsening of the situation. We will maintain the level of the response to the impact of the Syria crisis, but we’re very clear that we now have to simultaneously increasingly look at the developmental needs of Jordan. Syrians are largely here to stay for the foreseeable future. As it is today, they are in Jordan and we want to see how we can better support Jordan in strengthening domestic institutions so that they can cope better with the demands from external factors.
How well prepared is Jordan to host long-term refugees?
In Jordan, there are a high number of refugees, but a very small number of them are actually staying in refugee camps, which only consist of 10% of the refugee population. Largely, what we’re doing is to work with the host communities where the majority of the Syrians are staying. The UN concentrates on improving the resilience of these communities, mostly in northern governorates of the country. Of course, many Jordanians have a situation that is as vulnerable as the refugees; we have to fully acknowledge the level of the challenge that this puts on any society.
What would you say to detractors of the rules of origin scheme?
When somebody suggests that this is far away from a success, coming from a development background, I think the time horizon is wrong. To believe that in three years we would see tangible, large-scale changes on something as complicated as providing jobs and accessing the European market is not the right timeline to have. You have to value how the deal’s approach to business in itself, which is a global breakthrough. In Brussels, we plan to discuss how to further relax the rules of origin deal and find other ways of providing more job opportunities.
What kind of report card would you give Jordan today?
Jordan has to be recognized for having done the right things. From a regional political perspective, the continued peace and stability of Jordan is critically important. It’s also absolutely clear that Jordan has an enormous potential in its own right for it to move beyond where it is now in terms of its development. I think the best way that we can contribute to Jordan and to the regional peace and security is to secure Jordan can continuously move upward on the development trajectory.