TEN YEARS SINCE THE FIRST TENTS WERE PITCHED in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, almost 82,000 Syrian refugees are still living there, facing increasing precarity as shrinking incomes, rising prices and spiralling debt drive them further into poverty.

Over the past decade, caravans have replaced tents and Za’atari has become the biggest Syrian refugee camp in the world with more than half of its population being children.

“Syrian refugees in Jordan are facing a burgeoning humanitarian crisis. Global shocks have compounded the vulnerabilities of refugees, whose savings are long depleted after a protracted exile; 93 per cent of Syrian refugee households are now in debt”, said Hannah Patchett, policy and media manager for Oxfam in Jordan.

A series of external crises have created economic turmoil in Jordan, from the economic fallout of the Syrian conflict to the Covid-19 pandemic, and most recently the Ukraine crisis, pushing Syrian refugees to the brink.

In Za’atari refugee camp, around a third of refugees have reduced the number of meals they eat and more than two-thirds have had to buy food on credit, according to the UN. Food prices have soared: the cost of food increased by 22 per cent in shops in Za’atari during just four months in 2022.

While each refugee receives JD 23 ($32) in monthly food vouchers from the World Food Programme, this does not meet basic needs. “The price of five litres of cooking oil has risen from JD 7 to JD 16. We have nothing left after buying rice and sugar,” said Mahmoud, a father in Za’atari refugee camp.

Oxfam is responsible for waste management in Za’atari and provides short-term work opportunities to refugees in roles such as waste collection and recycling. Over the past two years, Oxfam has provided temporary work to more than 10,000 refugees in Za’atari camp. These opportunities are a lifeline, but they are at risk from shrinking funding.

Amid competing global crises, humanitarian funding for Syrian refugees in Jordan is in decline. As of July 2022, the Jordan Response Plan for the Syria crisis does not have 90 per cent of needed funds.

Up to 1.3 million Syrians have taken refuge in Jordan, of whom 675,000 are registered with UNHCR. With no end in sight to their displacement, Syrian refugees also need longer-term solutions, including a chance to build meaningful futures.

“Donor countries must increase funding to Jordan to help refugees and vulnerable Jordanians meet their basic needs in the short-term, and to support Jordan’s economic recovery and growth so all Jordanians and refugees can fulfil their potential”, said Patchett.

“Protection and support for refugees is a global responsibility. Beyond providing financing, high-income countries must also welcome more Syrian refugees. With the Ukraine crisis, Europe has shown its capacity to provide refuge. More must be done to include Syrian and other refugees: The right of refuge is universal; it must not be selective”, she added.