AMMAN — Civilians generally live pretty well in Jordan. According to the World Bank, only 14.4 percent lived below the poverty line in 2010. Today, however, Jordan houses the world’s largest refugee camp, Zaatari. This “temporary refuge” currently holds more than 80,000 refugees, coming mainly from Syria, and has become Jordan’s fourth-largest city.
Zaatari is seriously underfunded. UNICEF reports a $3 billion gap in funding for the camp. Providing employment, schooling, healthcare and basic needs for thousands of refugees is a daunting task. Despite the fact that many countries such as the United States, Canada and members of the European Union have given aid to Zaatari, supply is not meeting demand.
The United States spends less than 1 percent of its annual budget per year on foreign aid, which is about $30 billion. That may seem a sufficient amount, but compared to the $663 billion spent on military funding per year, it’s not much. One-tenth of the annual foreign aid budget would supply Zaatari for a full year with the necessary supplies.
While donating to different aid groups helping Zaatari can certainly make a difference, imagine if the U.S. decided to give more of its budget to Zaatari through foreign aid. Congressional acts with government support and spending are one of the best ideas for how to help people in Jordan. Emailing or calling members of Congress can help pass this type of legislation.
Aid programs, though, should only be a springboard to help refugees find a place of their own. Because of their displacement, many refugees cannot find jobs. Some refugees sneak out of the camp to work unofficially for nearby farmers. Several barriers prevent refugees from working, mainly several trade rules the EU imposed on Jordan to prevent smuggling.
Fortunately, on August 9, 2017, Jordan’s government passed new legislation, allowing Syrian refugees to apply for work permits themselves. Previously, refugees could only have work permits tied to specific companies and employers. Refugees can now work anywhere in Jordan, and they have protection against unfair pay and employer abuse.
Still, even with this legislation, refugees can have a hard time completing applications and paperwork for employment and keeping their wages so they can support their families. Supporting the organizations who helped pass this law, like the International Labor Organization and the Norwegian Refugee Council, will advocate to show the government how to help people in Jordan who are refugees.
Helping refugees support their families and children is essential for lifting people out of poverty. The largest problem refugees in Jordan face is that many young girls resort to child marriage. Their parents often can’t afford to feed them and marry them off in the hopes that they will have a better life. Child marriages in Jordan increased from 33 percent to 44 percent of all women aged 13 to 17 in just five years. That frightening statistic means almost half of the women getting married are children.
Child marriages are not at all the best method for how to help people in Jordan. Many child brides drop out of school once they’re married, and thus never finish their education. Without good schooling, rising out of poverty will be nearly impossible for these girls.
Even worse, however, is the rape culture surrounding these child marriages. Many young women end up marrying men they do not love, and become the victims of rape and sexual abuse. But because of the cultural shame surrounding divorce and sexual relations outside of marriage, many wives of all ages choose to stay married or to take their own lives.
Jordan and several other Arab countries have laws that allow rapists to avoid punishment if they marry their victims, another source of child brides. Fortunately, Jordan’s government recently voted to repeal some of these laws, and is increasing persecution of rapists. As encouraging of a victory as this is, it’s only the first step in helping refugee children stay in school and rise out of poverty. Jordan needs to pass more legislations like this, and supporting for activists in Jordan can help significantly.
Showing support for organizations that combat child marriage and provide victims of rape with the necessary counseling and education is a great example of how to help people in Jordan who are refugees. UNICEF is spearheading these efforts in Zaatari, but subverting the culture around marriage will take a massive effort. However, by strengthening the Syrian refugee families in Zaatari with stable jobs, fewer children will become brides and will instead stay in school. Then and only then will these refugees find a new life out of poverty. Or better yet, they will be well equipped for the day they can return home.
– Sydney Cooney