Contrary to public perceptions, the majority of Syrian refugees do not live in formal refugee camps like Zaatari and the soon-to open Azrak camp. In fact 80% live in towns and cities in Jordan. These urban refugees have reached the limits of their ability to cope. CARE has found that nine out of ten refugees are in debt, owing hundreds of dollars to relatives, landlords, shopkeepers or neighbours. And the cost of living has rocketed in just one year. Meanwhile the Jordanian government estimate that the cost of the growing refugee population will reach $1bn this year.
How then can a humanitarian organisation like CARE, and the wider international community, find ways to both relieve the intolerable suffering of Syrian refugees and support host communities, whose capacities have already been stretched to its limits?
Food and shelter are the most pressing concerns for urban refugees. Rents have increased by 28% in one year and average 193 JD (or £163). Unable to work legally in the countries where they have sought asylum, they survive off their savings, gifts from family or neighbours, and black-market jobs. They live in crowded, run-down apartments with extended family members or even strangers, they squat in abandoned buildings or construct makeshift shelters. Contracts are short term and the threat of eviction is high.
36% of the families registered with CARE are headed by women. They have fled without their husbands, who are either still in Syria, injured or have been killed. They face significant challenges trying to combine caring responsibilities and earning money. One out of ten families CARE interviewed also said that they need support to cope with the harrowing experience of conflict, flight and displacement.
Much media attention has focussed on the fact that the UN asked for 30,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees to be resettled worldwide - with some European countries heeding the call more urgently than others. Jordan, however, has a long history of accommodating huge numbers of refugees from the region, including 1.8m Palestinians and 500,000 Iraqis. Yet the addition of a growing refugee population is clearly putting a strain on the country's resources. A recent article in the Washington Post suggested that the Jordanian authorities estimate that at present each Syrian refugee is costing them $3000 annually. The Health Ministry says it spends half of its budget on medical care for Syrians alone and needs about $350 million in emergency funding to sustain the country's public-health-care system.
CARE's research also finds that 20% of the most vulnerable Jordanian families are struggling to meet their food needs. They are battling with the same challenges - increased accommodation and living costs, and access to outstretched public services.
As the political stalemate over the conflict continues organisations with a humanitarian imperative such as ours need to find innovative means of addressing the urban refugee crisis and supporting refugee and host communities alike.
There are three ways CARE is trying to do this.
• Firstly we are providing cash assistance. Since the crisis started, CARE has provided nearly 300,000 Syrians and vulnerable host communities in Jordan and Lebanon with humanitarian assistance, primarily by providing cash assistance to the poorest. This is one of the simplest and most efficient ways for refugees to cope with a very rapidly changing situation, with rising food prices, short-term letting arrangements and shifting healthcare needs. It is cash that enables them to prioritise and allocate according to their most urgent priorities, and it supports both the displaced and the economies of the communities that have taken them in.
• Secondly we are providing those in need with the tools to cope with displacement. CARE has found that many refugees and host communities affected by the crisis find themselves severely depressed and confined to their homes. Through psychosocial assistance to women, men and children and the creation of 'peer support groups' individuals from both communities are able to come together to share the opportunities and challenges of their circumstances.
• Thirdly we continue to fundraise to undertake all our work across the region. Of the 4.4bn requested by the two main UN appeals, only 24 percent has been funded. At CARE, we have secured less than 25% of the $200m required to respond.
Humanitarian assistance cannot stop the war but it can prevent people from suffering and it can help host countries to cope.