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IRIN - Jordan


What you need to know now about cuts to the UN’s agency for Palestine refugees

Tue, 27 Sep 2016 19:36:16 +0000

The UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees says it is facing “the gravest financial crisis” in its history after the United States announced it was holding back planned funding. But the agency is also promising that services for more than five million people in the Middle East aren’t on the chopping block just yet. “We are determined to do everything in our power to keep services running,” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told IRIN on Wednesday. “Schools and clinics will remain open,” he said, as the agency geared up to launch a massive fundraising campaign to fill in the gaps left by its largest donor. Here’s a quick guide to what UNRWA is, where its money comes from, and where things might go from here? Who does UNRWA help and where? UNRWA’s full name – the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East – is a mouthful. Its name (and all press releases, website, and the like) officially refers to “Palestine refugees,” not “Palestinian refugees”. That’s because UNRWA’s definition of a refugee (meant to help those who left or fled their homes during the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict) is tied to place – Palestine refugees are: “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.” The organisation began work in 1950, and its mandate was later expanded to help those displaced by the 1967 war that resulted in Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem (plus the Golan Heights and Sinai, later given back in a peace deal with Egypt.) Those who meet this definition (and their children) and are registered with UNRWA and live in the areas where the agency works – that’s Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Gaza, and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem – are eligible for services from the agency, including education, medical care, camp housing in some places, and more. allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="297" id="datawrapper-chart-DGVhe" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" scrolling="no" src="//" style="width: 0; min-width: 100% !important;" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen">  ali-zatari-768x432.jpg News Aid and Policy Conflict EXCLUSIVE: UN waits for Assad government to approve new chief for Syria Ben Parker IRIN LONDON Middle East and North Africa Jordan Syria العربية [...]

Syrians trapped in desert no man's land

Thu, 09 Jun 2016 10:57:33 +0000

Some 60,000 Syrians are currently trapped in Rukban and the smaller Hadalat, makeshift camps in a barren slice of desert at the border between Syria and Jordan. Accounts from the settlements describe a lawless no man’s land where healthcare, food, and water are difficult to access. They are places ruled by violence and fear, threatened by disease and where relief is hard to find. With daytime temperatures topping 40 degrees, the fasting month of Ramadan, which started this week, will be particularly gruelling. These makeshift camps are sandwiched between two ridges of earth and sand (berms). The international border, based on the 1916 Sykes-Picot line, should be somewhere between the berms, built by Syrian and Jordanian authorities to demarcate a demilitarised buffer zone. In recent weeks, it’s become clear the camps are not just temporary way stations, but here to stay, and growing. The little aid that gets in is poorly targeted and monitored. Jordan is letting in 100-200 each day. But some Syrians are choosing to stay in limbo at the berm, unsure of the reception that awaits them in Jordan, or fearing they will be sent back to Syria. According to recent projections by humanitarian agencies, the border population could reach 100,000 by the end of the year. International aid organisations are constructing a service area on the Jordanian side of the berm at Rukban, which will serve as a base for providing goods and services. “These people will be left in the desert" “Let’s be honest, it’s going to be a permanent service area,” a source familiar with the situation told IRIN. “Unless we’re finding a solution to the conflict, unless we’re finding a long-term solution for these asylum seekers, this camp is going to stay; and this setup is going to stay.” The problematic “setup” is one that’s been gradually evolving, to the dismay of humanitarian observers, for more than a year. In mid-2014, Jordan, which hosts some 650,000 registered Syrian refugees, effectively closed its border crossing points at Rukban and Hadalat. That stopped Syrians entering Jordan, but not their desire, or drive, to flee. Contributor Hot, dusty, dangerous: Rukban camp between Syria and Jordan Many still headed towards Jordan but found their way barred. Gradually, a community of asylum seekers amassed at the country’s eastern border: 5,000 people last November, 20,000 by January this year. The numbers have tripled since and now more than 60,000 are stuck there. Estimates are derived in part from satellite imagery, as international access is blocked. Many of those living here have been waiting to cross for more than six months. In March this year, Jordan began letting several hundred Syrians in daily. In less than three months, nearly 20,000 have arrived at Azraq camp, not far from the border. But Azraq has reached its working capacity. The numbers entering Jordan have declined significantly from a peak of 400-500 a day in mid-May. Although border officials insist people are still arriving, while undergoing strict security vetting, it’s unlikely that the tens of thousands at the berm will all be able to enter Jordan. Edgar Mwakaba/IRIN “These people will be left in the desert,” the humanitarian source said. Survival of the fittest The fate of these forgotten people depends on a fragile infrastructure cut through by the high-stakes politics of the earthen berm. The community lives on one side of the berm, an area of sunbaked desert with no running water, no authorities and almost no facilities. On the Jordanian side of the berm, aid agencies set up for daily distribution, bringing mobile clinics, food provision and, to a limited extent, psychosocial support. Water is brought in trucks and distributed among individuals who then have to carry it back to their tents. There’s some maternal care and children’s health programmes and vaccination campaigns. Food parcels are distributed [...]

Jordan detains Syrian refugees in Village 5 “jail”

Fri, 27 May 2016 14:41:32 +0000

Rana spent more than five months at the Jordanian border with Syria, with very little in the way of food, water, medical care or shelter. She eventually made it into Jordan, but for the past 20 days the 15-year-old has been trapped, alongside thousands of others, inside what is euphemistically known as “Village 5”, a fenced-off compound within the UN-run Azraq camp, some 80 kilometres east of Amman. Her home is one of several thousand metal shelters, laid out in a regimented grid of dusty dirt tracks behind 10-foot high barbed-wire fencing. With almost nothing to occupy her time, Rana spends her days queuing for food rations, carrying pumped water around, and trying, often without success, to escape the heat. Like all of the approximately 12,700 Syrian refugees living here, she’s prevented from leaving by the fence and, beyond that, desert. At a young age, Rana is caught at one of the darkest points of the Syrian refugee crisis, a place no one in the aid system much wants to talk about. IRIN gained rare access and spoke to a few of the refugees, but aid agencies that work inside the camp were wary of speaking on record about the place. Despite repeated requests, UNHCR, the UN’s agency for refugees, refused to even comment on Village 5, which it runs along with the rest of Azraq. Abeer lives in Village 5 too, and is dealing with the fallout from her own flight from Syria. She’s paid a minimal wage for her work at a makeshift education centre, having nabbed one of a handful of sought-after "paid volunteering" opportunities in Village 5. Back home, she was a teacher; her colleagues now include young people who worked as engineers or were studying at university to become pharmacists. “We can’t go out. I can’t see my family; my family can’t come to see me,” the 24-year-old, who has close relatives in a city close to Amman, tells IRIN. “We are in a fenced area. It’s like a jail.” Bethan Staton/IRIN No going back to the berm Rana is happy to be here, but then she has travelled from far worse. “Things are very good,” she says, smiling. “There are no problems. We have a caravan. There’s water and food. Everything is available.” That’s a major change from where she came from – a no man’s land just south of Jordan’s border with Syria, a raised sand barrier known as “the berm”, where some 60,000 Syrians are now massed.  When the violence in Syria began in 2011, hundreds of thousands sought safe haven in Jordan. At first, most went to Zaatari camp, which at its height in 2013 sheltered more than 150,000 refugees. Many have since left for the country’s cities and towns. Others have sought refuge in Europe, and others still have returned to Syria, leaving Zaatari’s current population at just under 80,000. In mid-2013, Jordan quietly closed its western borders. This meant all Syrians trying to make it to Jordan, including those from Aleppo and from areas in the northeast controlled by so-called Islamic State (the group began its offensive on Deir Ezzor in April 2014), began to head for the east and the berm. By mid-2014, the eastern crossings were closed off too, leaving all those attempting to enter Jordan stranded on the berm. And they kept coming. In April of last year there were an estimated 2,500 Syrians hoping to gain entry, and the number has exponentially climbed since then.  Jordan, which hosts more than 650,000 registered Syrian refugees, considers the newcomers a security concern – in January King Abdullah said that members of IS were known to be at the berm. The fears are based both on the chaos of the berm and where Syrians have come from to get there – Aleppo, Homs, Deir Ezzor, and areas in the northeast that are either controlled by IS or necessitate a journey through territory it controls. Humanitarians have complained about a lack of access to the berm and riots have been reported. Rana describes life there as “horrible”. “There were gangs controlling[...]

Eye spy: biometric aid system trials in Jordan

Wed, 18 May 2016 06:17:18 +0000

There is only one supermarket at Jordan’s Azraq refugee camp. It’s a cavernous space, packed with crowds and stacked with tins and boxes. Sabha, a mother of six who came here from Aleppo four months ago, browses the tinned pulses, eggs, rice and fresh vegetables that line the shelves and sits on her stacked rations for the month as she queues to buy them. When she pays, however, Sabha doesn’t take out her purse. She simply looks into a small black machine, and buys her groceries using only her eyes. Sabha is using a new iris scanning system that’s just been rolled out in Azraq, a camp that houses some 30,000 Syrian refugees in the Jordanian desert. The machine takes a detailed reading of her eye, matches it against hundreds of thousands of records, and deducts her grocery bill from her monthly World Food Programme allowance. This is relatively groundbreaking technology, and it’s now the standard means of distributing food aid in Azraq. “It’s a first not just for refugees, but for the whole shopping and retail industry,” Shada Moghraby, WFP’s spokeswoman in Jordan, told IRIN. Soon the scanners will be in Zaatari, Jordan’s largest camp for Syrians, and it’s hoped they’ll appear in urban supermarkets too, as the 85 percent of Syrian refugees who live in Jordan’s cities already use iris scanners to withdraw monetary assistance from cashpoints. But not all refugees are convinced of the technology’s value – Sabha says it actually makes her shopping more of a slog – and privacy advocates are concerned too. “The fact is that it is so powerful,” says Eric Töpfer of the German Institute for Human Rights. “If [the data] doesn’t stop [at aid use] and it’s shared more liberally and used with less control or without controls… then it can do harm.” New technology, new problems Sabha’s shopping is made possible by a biometric data network that’s now a normal part of life for the more than 600,000 Syrian refugees registered in Jordan. Iris scans, taken when refugees register in the country, are stored in a database kept by the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, and used to verify individuals as they seek assistance from UNHCR and, more recently, other UN agencies like WFP. The system has significant benefits over the cards it’s replacing. Cutting down on paperwork by connecting recipients direct to the allowances they receive, it’s a more secure method of delivery that ensures allowances are only used by the people they’re intended for. Moghraby says that feedback from refugees in Azraq camp has generally been positive, with particular advantages for the elderly. “It eliminates hassle and waiting time and can’t… get lost in the way cards can,” she says. At the supermarket, however, the refugees themselves don’t seem convinced at all. Sabha says that the eye-scanning system has made her life more, not less difficult. “I’m pregnant, and I’m frightened for my unborn child,” she explains, gesturing at the chaos of the supermarket. Because she’s named as the head of household responsible for the money only she can access the monthly WFP allowance with her eyes. “I’d rather my son go and get the food for me, but he can’t because of the iris scanner. My sister is in the same situation. She has six kids. They’re young, but she has to take them to the supermarket when she goes to pick up food.” Ivor Prickett/UNHCR Azraq has only one supermarket Her grievance becomes a common theme among the other shoppers: many say they prefer the older cards, which allowed them more freedom to cooperate with friends and ask family members to run errands on their behalf. The fact that Azraq’s single supermarket takes significant time and effort to get to only makes the situation tougher. Responding to the criticisms, Moghraby says that people experiencing problems with the eye scanning system can request no[...]