I recently returned from a trip to Jordan to see firsthand the impact of the Syrian conflict. The scale is monumental. It is now one of the largest refugee exoduses in recent history.
I visited Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, just a few kilometers away from the Syrian border. Zaatari is a desolate camp in the middle of the Jordanian desert. Everything, including water, is trucked in to the 84,700 Syrian refugees who live in Zaatari in temporary shelters. Nearly one-third of the refugees are children.
In total, there are more than 3 million Syrian refugees displaced. Over half of them are children under 17. Many of these children, like 13 year-old Abdullah, a Syrian refugee in Jordan who sells stale bread, work throughout the day to support their family.
With still no end in sight, more families will be displaced by the Syrian conflict throughout 2015. All people deserve a home and the opportunity to rebuild their lives without fear. As people of faith, and as Americans, we must welcome and walk alongside those who seek safety.
Jordan has been a country of remarkable hospitality to refugees — providing safety for hundreds of thousands of refugees across the decades. But hosting these many refugees is causing huge strains in Jordan. It is not a wealthy country — poverty is high, unemployment is estimated at 30%, it is among the countries with the least secure access to water — and still it has made room for neighbors.
There is growing resentment and services are being cut off. Since late in 2014, most of the refugees now fleeing ISIS who cross into Jordan seeking safety are forcibly returned to Syria. There is fear among the refugees and among the Jordanian people, while the international community is growing tired of this refugee crisis.
One official described this as the most dangerous period in the history of the Middle East in terms of war, deaths, displacement of people, and the saturation of weapons. Solutions are not clear and won’t be easy. As is often the case, most refugees hope to go home one day – but that day is not likely to come soon.
The work of LIRS, our partners and supporters has never been more important. We must continue to advocate for and protect Syrian refugees, we can’t grow weary, and we must open our hearts and be prepared to welcome some of these refugees into our communities.