‘Lost generation’ of Syrians in Jordan share bittersweet feelings amid return home

AMMAN: Shadi, a Syrian refugee in Jordan, is pleased to have the opportunity to return to his homeland, but is afraid of facing prosecution or conscription upon arrival.

Preferred to be referred to only by his first name, Shadi said that he arrived in Jordan with his family in 2013 during the climax of the civil war in Syria.

He now works as a barber at a men’s salon in Amman, where the 26-year-old said that he makes “considerably good money” to provide for his family.

Speaking to Arab News, Shadi said that he “belongs to a lost generation.”

He added: “I’m torn between Syria, my roots, and Jordan, where I grew up. I came to Jordan when I was 17 and here is where my life started to take shape.”

Now, against all odds, Shadi said that he wants to return to Syria, but is afraid that he would face military conscription or prosecution if he carries out his plan.

“I really wish I could go back to Syria. We have heard that Damascus, where we came from, is enjoying good stability and normalcy. But all young men who returned, and I know many of them, were forced to enlist in the army or faced prosecution, most of it in form of revenge for leaving the country.”

Shadi said that he could have made it to Germany like thousands of other Syrians, or to Canada through a UNHCR-administrated program, but that he and his family preferred to stay in Jordan.

“Here (in Jordan) we feel more at home.”

According to official figures, a total of 3,325 Syrian refugees have returned to their war-torn country from Jordan over the past nine months.

From 2016 until the end of September this year, a total of 341,500 Syrian refugees have returned to Syria, of whom 64,278 came from Jordan, UNHCR said. The UN refugee agency has announced the return of 38,379 refugees to Syria from Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt in the past nine months.

“The numbers for returnees to Syria are those that have been verified or monitored by UNHCR and do not reflect the full number of returnees, which may be much higher,” UNHCR said in a statement.

Jordan says it is providing refuge to about 1.3 million Syrians, including some 670,000 people officially registered with the UNHCR as refugees, making the kingdom the world’s second biggest host of Syrian refugees per capita behind Lebanon. Turkey has accepted 3.6 million Syrian refugees, and Lebanon almost 1 million, according to the organization.

Jordan hosts two camps near the Syrian border: Zaatari camp, the largest in the Middle East, as well as Azraq camp. But most Syrians in Jordan live in cities and urban centers, where work in certain industries is lucrative.

Last year in Jordan, “a record 62,000 work permits were issued to Syrians,” the UNHCR said, amounting to “the highest annual number since work permits for Syrian refugees were introduced.”

Syrian refugees have been allowed to work in several sectors in Jordan since 2016, after donor countries pledged funding and expanded trade facilitation to the kingdom under the Jordan Response Plan for the Syria Crisis (JRP).

Budget deficits

Jordan said that funding for the JRP reached just $235 million, or 10.3 percent of targets, during the first half of 2022.

The Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation has said that the JRP’s total funding requirements stand at $2.28 billion.

“The plan remains largely unfunded, with a $2.04 billion deficit, or 89.7 percent of the total amount of the required financing,” the ministry said in a statement run by Jordan’s official news agency, Petra.

The ministry added that $83.4 million went toward supporting Syrian refugees from the $235 million secured from international donors, while about $60 million was provided to host communities.

In 2021, $744.4 million, or 30.6 percent of the JRP, was funded, according to the ministry, with a $1.68 billion deficit remaining.

UNHCR Jordan also said that it was suffering a budget deficit — $24 million — preventing it from carrying out humanitarian programs for Syrian refugees in the kingdom.

The UN relief agency said in a report in August that this year’s lack of funding will affect services for Syrian refugees and also Jordan’s host communities.

It added that only about 42 percent of its financial requirements in Jordan for 2022 had been received until Oct. 25.

In recent remarks to the government-owned Al-Mamlakah TV, UNHCR Jordan spokesperson Mishaal Al-Fayez said that the kingdom has received no funding for the winter assistance program.

He added that the UNHCR needs $46 million to provide 120,000 refugee families in Jordan winter cash assistance, stressing that the organization is in contact with donors to find a way to meet funding needs.

According to a recent UNHCR Jordan Vulnerability Assessment Report, the average Syrian refugee in Jordan owes 343.1 Jordanian dinars ($483) in debt.

In an article carrying a tone of dismay, Jordanian political analyst and economist Issam Qadamani recently criticized the international community and donor countries for “not honoring their pledges and leaving resource-poor host countries, like Jordan and Lebanon, handling the refugee dilemma alone.”

Qadamani said that the international community’s rhetoric on refugees has changed from emphasizing voluntary return to promoting resettlement.

“The international community has changed course and only talks about resettlement of refugees, and was always weak in financing their costs on host countries,” he warned.

Commenting on concerns over demographic changes in host countries, Qadamani said that Lebanon has already launched plans to send Syrian refugees back home despite international pressure.

“Resettlement of refugees in Jordan is also unacceptable due to the kingdom’s limited resources and economic woes.”

With Jordan “receiving only words” from the international community and with assistance from outside the kingdom failing to exceed 10 percent of required funding targets, Qadamani said that Jordan must “put in place plans to send refugees back to Syria in regions enjoying stability.”

He added: “And in case the return of refugees is not an option, the international community is required to carry the burdens and take in the refugees, but not in a selective and ‘racist’ manner as it did with the Ukrainians.”

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