Amman, Jordan-Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD)-Legal Aid and the Voices team, participated in the Ministry of Interior’s workshop on “The Role of Media, Refugee Crisis and Forced Migration.” The workshop included speakers from the Ministry of Interior, the Syrian Refugee Affairs Department, and Planning Ministry. Participants included various media outlets, both international and local, and non-governmental organizations. The speakers focused on how Jordan has responded to the refugee crisis.
Brigadier General Waddah Hmoud, director of the Syrian Refugee Affairs Department, provided background information on the refugee crisis and how Jordan is responding specifically in the sectors of education, health and security. Director Hmoud explained that in addition to the 620,000 Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR there are over 750,000 Syrians residing in the Kingdom who are not registered as refugees. Dr. Saleh al-Kilani, Refugee Affairs Coordinator for Jordan’s Ministry of Interior, stated that Syrians now make up 22% of the population of Jordan and refugees total 40% of the country.
Director Hmoud explained the challenge in maintaining a database for such a large number of refugees. He emphasized how new innovations in technology like the use of biometric data via iris scan has helped cut back on fraud. Next month the Jordanian government intends to issue new ID cards to all Syrians residing in Jordan whether they are registered with UNHCR as refugees or not.
The presenters explained the massive stress the crisis has put on Jordanian services. In the education sector 130,000 Syrian students are enrolled in Jordanian schools, with another 90,000 seeking to enroll next term. As a result the government has implemented the temporary measure of double shifts at school, however the Ministry of Education maintains that 72 new schools need to be built within the next year to adequately service Syrian children, whom make up over 50% of all registered refugee.
Jordan’s health sector is also overwhelmed with medical costs exceeding $253 million from this year alone. Due to the lack of funds the Jordanian government was forced to discontinue free health services to all Syrians, something that Jordanian citizens are not even entitled to. However, all costs of medical procedures for the uninsured, including Syrian refugees are subsidies by the government up to 60%. Dr. Saleh al-Kilani, Refugee Affairs Coordinator for Jordan’s Ministry of Interior stated that the lack of funding is a serious concern across sectors with only 50% of the responses $2.2 billion being funded.
The conference concluded by debating the role of media in covering the refugee crisis and how it can play a role in the response. The organizers have put forward a number of recommendations such as for the coverage to include the overall problems of the refugees in the camp and host communities, as one of the government’s critiques of the media’s coverage of the crisis was the disproportional focus on the Za’atari camp despite the fact that nearly 90% of Syrian refugees live outside the camps in host communities throughout Jordan. ARDD-Legal Aid emphasized the need for the media to focus on relieving tensions between the host community and refugees, highlighting the proper refugee image through media, and not to only focus on the burden created by the crisis, but also to draw attention towards the common concern of the refugee community and the Jordanian community in addressing the crisis. Moreover, the necessity of cooperation between parties, including civil society organizations, to exchange information with the media and coordination to ensure that the correct information is being delivered to all parties interested and involved in the media discourse.