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UNHCR faces difficulty helping neediest Iraqis in Jordan

News Stories, 27 May 2008

© UNHCR/S.Malkawi
An aid worker moves foodstuff in preparation for a monthly distribution to refugees. The nutritional value of UNHCR's food packs has been reduced due to rising prices.

AMMAN, Jordan, May 27 (UNHCR) Amid rising food and energy prices, exacerbated by the withdrawal of state fuel subsidies, the UN refugee agency will find it increasingly difficult to help the growing numbers of Iraqi refugees in need of assistance in Jordan.

Vulnerable Jordanians and Iraqis have been particularly hard hit by the economic developments. And while the government has tried to cushion the blow with public sector wage increases and the establishment of a social safety net, these initiatives will not benefit Iraqis, most of whom are not entitled to earn a living in Jordan.

More than 150,000 Iraqis in Jordan have become completely dependent on international aid. But the rising fuel and food prices are also cutting into the funds of humanitarian aid organizations such as UNHCR, which has received less than half of the US$44 million it seeks from donors for operations in Jordan this year.

"The devastating effect is simple; on one hand the funds available buy dramatically less when compared to a few months ago. On the other hand, we are being faced with larger numbers of vulnerable people as their impoverishment is accelerated due to these rising costs," said Imran Riza, UNHCR's representative in Jordan.

UNHCR also provides food packages to some 20,000 Iraqis a month, but the refugee agency has had to cut the size of the package as a result of the rising prices. This has compromised the nutritional value of these packs, which used to contain 1,300 kilo calories per person per day but now contain 1,000 kilo calories per day. This compares to the daily international standard of 2,100 kilo calories. More price rises could mean further cuts to the calorie level.

Meanwhile, the financial assistance that UNHCR currently provides to 2,200 families between 70 and 140 Jordanian dinars (US$100 US$200) per month will be insufficient to cover basic necessities, including shelter, because of the rising prices.

"With increased prices and more than half my allowance going on rent, how am I expected to survive?" asked Mona, a 52-year-old mother of three, who fled to Amman after her husband was killed two years ago. She recently started receiving assistance of 140 Jordanian dinars per month.

Tamara, a 49-year-old mother of five, was also feeling the pinch in the Jordanian capital and said she needed more assistance. "The school sent me five urgent notifications asking for immediate payment or my children will be dismissed from their school. Am I not considered to be in need? I have no money for food, rent and now I can't even support my childrens' education."

Meanwhile, more and more people are beginning to ask for assistance for the first time from UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations as their funds run out.

"There is a crucial need to re-sensitize the international community to the magnitude of the humanitarian problem in Jordan," said UNHCR's Riza, while warning that "if our budgetary requirements remain unmet, we will be forced to make cuts to our humanitarian operation."

The UN refugee agency also faces funding problems in neighbouring Syria, where hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have sought refuge. UNHCR provides education, food and health programmes in Syria, but these are also under threat as funds run out.

"Any further cut in UNHCR assistance is suicide for us. We are reaching our limits, and not being helped any longer means death. Assistance, even little, is 1,000 times better than nothing," said former gold merchant Amir, while queuing outside UNHCR's Damascus office.

Rebecca is also now dependent on UNHCR for aid. "My life will become a nightmare if UNHCR assistance comes to an end. We are seven people living in two tiny rooms," she said, while lining up to request further medical support for herself and a niece who was set on fire in Baghdad.

Naseer Shamaa is a famous Iraqi musician who works tirelessly for refugees and has visited Syria frequently to highlight their situation. "If UNHCR assistance comes to an end, the Iraqi refugees will be left starving. Then, nobody will benefit from anyone's feelings of guilt or remorse. The refugees are merely defending their right to live. UNHCR is giving them the opportunity to do so," he said earlier this month.

By Ziad Ayad in Amman, Jordan
and Sybella Wilkes in Damascus, Syria

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Food and Nutrition

UNHCR strives to improve the nutritional status of all the people it serves.

Food cuts in Chad camps expose refugee women and children to exploitation, abuse

A funding shortfall has forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to cut food rations in refugee camps in eastern Chad by up to 60 per cent. As a result, Sudanese refugees in 13 camps in the east now receive about 850 calories per day, down from the minimum ration of 2,100 calories daily they used to get. The refugees are finding it difficult to cope. Clinics in the area report a significant spike in malnutrition cases, with rates as high as 19.5 per cent in Am Nabak camp.

WFP needs to raise US$ 186 million to maintain feeding programmes for refugees in Africa through the end of the year. Additionally, UNHCR is urgently seeking contributions towards the US$ 78 million it has budgeted this year for food security and nutrition programmes serving refugees in Africa.

In the meantime, the refugees experiencing ration cuts have few options. Poor soil quality, dry conditions and little access to water mean they can't plant supplemental crops as refugees in the less arid south of Chad are able to do. To try to cope, many refugee women in eastern Chad are leaving the camps in search of work in surrounding towns. They clean houses, do laundry, fetch water and firewood and work as construction labourers. Even so, they earn very little and often depend on each other for support. In the town of Iriba, for example, some 50 refugee women sleep rough each night under a tree and share their some of their meagre earnings to pay for a daily, communal meal.

They are also subject to exploitation. Sometimes, their temporary employers refuse to pay them at the end of the day. And some women and girls have resorted to prostitution to earn money to feed their families.

Ration cuts can have an impact far beyond health, reverberating through the entire community. It is not uncommon for children to be pulled out of school on market days in order to work. Many refugees use a portion of their food rations to barter for other essentials, or to get cash to pay school fees or buy supplies for their children. Small business owners like butchers, hairdressers and tailors - some of them refugees - also feel the pinch.

WFP supplies food to some 240,500 Sudanese refugees in the camps of eastern Chad. Many have been in exile for years and, because of their limited opportunities for self-sufficiency, remain almost totally dependent on outside help. The ration cuts have made an already difficult situation much worse for refugees who were already struggling.

Food cuts in Chad camps expose refugee women and children to exploitation, abuse

Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

UNHCR and its partners estimate that out of a total population of 26 million, some 1.9 million Iraqis are currently displaced internally and more than 2 million others have fled to nearby countries. While many people were displaced before 2003, increasing numbers of Iraqis are now fleeing escalating sectarian, ethnic and general violence. Since January 2006, UNHCR estimates that more than 800,000 Iraqis have been uprooted and that 40,000 to 50,000 continue to flee their homes every month. UNHCR anticipates there will be approximately 2.3 million internally displaced people within Iraq by the end of 2007. The refugee agency and its partners have provided emergency assistance, shelter and legal aid to displaced Iraqis where security has allowed.

In January 2007, UNHCR launched an initial appeal for US$60 million to fund its Iraq programme. Despite security issues for humanitarian workers inside the country, UNHCR and partners hope to continue helping up to 250,000 of the most vulnerable internally displaced Iraqis and their host communities

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Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

Non-Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

After Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled in Iraq in 2003, groups of refugees who had lived in the country for many years tried to leave the chaos and lawlessness that soon ensued. Hundreds of people started fleeing to the border with Jordan, including Palestinians in Baghdad and Iranian Kurds from the Al Tash refugee camp in central Iraq.

Aside from a few Palestinians with family connections inside the neighbouring country, the refugees were refused entry and free movement in Jordan. Thousands were soon stranded in the no-man's land between Iraq and Jordan or at the desert camp of Ruweished, located 60 kilometres inside Jordan.

Since 2003, Palestinians, Iranian Kurds, Iranians, Sudanese and Somalis have been living there and suffering the scorching heat and freezing winters of the Jordanian desert. UNHCR and its partners have provided housing and assistance and tried to find solutions – the agency has helped resettle more than 1,000 people in third countries. At the beginning of 2007, a total of 119 people – mostly Palestinians – remained in Ruweished camp without any immediate solution in sight.

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