In Jordan, aid for Iraqi refugees is often redirected
Millions in aid money intended to help war refugees is also helping improve Jordan's beleaguered infrastructure.
Forbidden to work, Iraqi war refugees here are poor and getting poorer. Waiting lists for food and cash assistance have grown into the thousands.Skip to next paragraph
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But while the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is looking to donors for money to meet these needs, a large portion of the aid already provided has gone to address Jordan's own urgent national priorities.
In 2007, 61 percent of UNHCR's operational budget was given directly to Jordan, along with millions in bilateral aid from the European Community and the United States. This is a kind of trickle-down development in which helping host countries helps refugees.
But with budgets squeezed by rising fuel and food prices, some experts are questioning how much Iraqis are benefiting from international funds that are not going directly to refugee services but instead to the Jordanian government. While aid agencies are focused on the benefits of the work Jordan's government has done, some officials worry that not meeting Iraqis basic needs could disastrously shatter expectations.
"We feel that we've finally built some credibility with our [Iraqi] beneficiaries, and we worry about the consequences of not being able to deliver," says Imran Riza, the Jordan representative for UNHCR.
In late 2007, Jordan told aid groups that "the financial support provided by donor countries and agencies must be channeled directly to the government of Jordan ... to ensure the strengthening of institutional capacities and the expansion and development of services."
The government said Iraqis here are "regarded as guests," not refugees, "and hence all concerned parties must work on facilitating the appropriate conditions that will ensure their return to Iraq."
One significant area in which Jordan has benefited from donor aid is its overburdened educational system. As the UNHCR raised $11.2 million to educate Iraqi children in Jordan ($10 million of which it gave to Jordan's education ministry), the government agreed to allow Iraqi students to register for school.
The UN and aid agencies praised the decision, and more money followed: In December, the European Community gave about $39 million to Jordan to support education for Iraqis over three years; the US Agency for International Development (USAID) provided another $8 million. The UN Children's Fund paid school fees for more than 9,000 children.