After first positive cases confirmed in country’s Syrian refugee camps, UNHCR chief pledges help to contain virus and praises country’s ongoing support for refugees.
By Charlie Dunmore and Mohammad Hawari in Amman, Jordan | 15 September 2020
Jordan continues to show a “great spirit of solidarity” with refugees by including them in its healthcare systems and COVID-19 response plans, despite the many challenges the country currently faces, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said during a two-day visit to the Kingdom on 14-15 September.
Jordan is a major refugee host country, with more than 658,000 registered refugees from the conflict in neighbouring Syria and tens of thousands more from other nationalities including Iraq, Yemen and Sudan, as well as being home to large numbers of Palestinian refugees.
The High Commissioner’s visit comes the week after the discovery of the first positive cases of COVID-19 among Syrian refugees living in the country’s two main camps in Za’atari and Azraq, with a total of six confirmed cases so far.
“Once again, Jordan has been extremely positive from the point of view of humanitarian assistance by including refugees [and] ensuring that refugees would not be excluded from the care provided to [COVID] patients,” Grandi said.
“I want to thank Jordan, but also to tell other countries: look at what Jordan is doing,” he added. “A country with relatively few means, not many resources, a small country that is able to include refugees in its healthcare. I think it’s important that everybody knows what Jordan is doing so that also we can mobilize more resources to help Jordan continue to do this work.”
Grandi said support from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, for the pandemic response would benefit everyone in the country – refugees and Jordanians alike. “The virus does not look at who we are, it can hit anybody, and it has hit Jordanians but also refugees,” he said. “We don’t want to make any distinction, and we are really helping the health system respond to this crisis.”
During meetings with the country’s Prime Minster Omar Razzaz and Minister for Foreign Affairs Ayman Safadi, the High Commissioner expressed his solidarity with Jordan and discussed UNHCR’s ongoing efforts alongside the authorities to contain the outbreak in the camps.
“Let’s hope that the numbers do not grow,” he said. “I am confident that with the measures that are being taken, with the experience that Jordan has accumulated over the past few months, that we will be able to contain this and that it doesn’t become an emergency.”
During the trip, Grandi visited Luzmila Hospital in the capital Amman, which is one of 50 private hospitals across the country through which UNHCR, together with partners Caritas and the Jordanian Paramedic Society, provide free-of-cost emergency referrals and medical treatment to refugees.
As well as the threat to health posed by COVID-19, measures to contain the virus have exacerbated the dire economic situation facing the most vulnerable individuals in Jordan including refugees, 79 per cent of whom now live below the poverty line.
The High Commissioner met students at Luminus Technical University College in Amman, where as part of UNHCR’s wider efforts to boost livelihoods and economic inclusion it funds scholarships for 58 refugee and Jordanian youngsters pursuing vocational qualifications in sectors including automotive repair, computer science and hospitality.
Among the students was Waleed Najman, who arrived in Jordan in 2017 having fled the conflict in Yemen with his brother and mother. Despite completing three years of a media studies degree in Yemen, Waleed could not afford to continue his studies when he arrived in Jordan.
“I did not find a scholarship to continue with the same major,” Waleed said. “I felt desperate, because I reached the age of 26, 27 and I did not complete my education.”
But when he got the opportunity to study auto mechanics at Luminus, he embraced the chance to learn a new skill.
“It was an opportunity, and there is no problem for [me to] change. I had a goal … but I changed because of the circumstances,” Waleed said. “Education is really important. I benefit myself with that I learn, and I also benefit the country.”
Abdulrahman, 20, is a Jordanian who also receives a UNHCR scholarship to study auto mechanics, and said that like many of the refugee students in his class he would have been unable to continue studying without the opportunity.
“There are some people in Jordan who are in need, they don’t have money to study. I was one of them,” Abulrahman said. “So … for them to help us as well, it is very important.”
“What is remarkable about the Luminus initiative is that it serves different communities – Jordanian nationals of course, but also many different communities of refugees,” Grandi said after the visit.
“It is also for refugees a very important way to build the skills that they need when they will go back home, and to participate eventually – as we have heard from some of them – in the reconstruction of their countries, or to build their own lives in other countries,” he concluded.