Syrian refugees in Jordan unlikely to return home anytime soon

AMMAN - A total of 16,700 Syrian refugees, out of 671,000 registered with the United Nations, have left Jordan, heading voluntarily to Syria since the reopening of the Jaber-Nasib crossing from last October and this April, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said.

Jordan is among countries most affected by the Syrian crisis and one that has been struggling with economic challenges as the result of hosting more than 1.3 million Syrians, Jordanian officials said.

Economists said the return of relations between Syria and Jordan contributed to providing a safe alternative for refugees who decided to voluntarily leave Jordan.

“Syrian refugees are still sceptical and fear of the return home while others believe that they have nothing there for them or their family and a new start will be very hard for them,” journalist Ziad Momani said.

A UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) survey of 3,400 Syrian refugees in November indicated that 66% of respondents said they would return home one day, 8% said that they planned to return in the next 12 months and 24% said they did not plan to return at all.

“Of course, we understand the reason why most of them don’t want to return because, since the start of the crisis, many managed to build their own life here and whether at refugee camps or outside the camps. Those who managed to open businesses which are successful and competing with Jordanian businesses will never go back,” Momani said.

Fares Braizat, chairman of NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions, a research, polling and consultancy firm, said Jordan has much to offer refugees.

“Refugees have better opportunities in Jordan due to the aid provided by the UNHCR and other relief agencies and also job opportunities that they can find in any field,” he said.

“Meanwhile, the elements that will allow them to return are very limited. The Syrian government should first issue public amnesty to all refugees who are wanted and return to them their properties taken by others.”

A 2018 NAMA study said more than half of the Syrian refugees in Jordan will not return to Syria because of security and stability concerns.

Braizat said Jordan, as a country, would benefit from stability in Syria for economic and trade reasons.

Last October, Jordanians pinned their hopes on the reopening of the Jaber-Nasib crossing after a 3-year closure because of the Syrian war. This important crossing used to channel billions of dollars of trade for countries across the region. The opening was greatly welcomed by Jordan and Syria, which reported billions of dollars in lost income from trade with Europe and the Gulf region because of the crossing closure.

“There is no doubt that the reopening of the crossing played a big role in somehow returning things to normal but still refugees are not OK with any decision they make to return home at least not now,” Momani said. “Despite collective efforts and joint decision by refugees to return, there are many who established themselves well here and do not think of going back no matter what.”

In December, the Jaber-Nasib crossing marked the first organised return of Syrian refugees from Jordan with around 100 refugees and their families entering Syria but half of them seemed to have a change of heart and only 47 rode the bus across.

“Who can blame them? Most of them do not know how things are there and what is waiting for them. It is true that since the crisis started many returned and came back several times but still many are still here seeking a new life and a new beginning,” he added.

UNHCR statistics in February stated that the number of refugees registered reached 671,579, with 48% children and approximately 125,000 children were born in Jordan; 83% of the refugees lived in hosting societies and 17% lived in refugee camps.

Around 78,500 were in Zaatari Camp, 41,000 in Azraq Camp and 7,000 in Emirati Camp.

Last December, Jordan announced that the number of registered refugees who returned to Syria reached 5,703 while those who do not carry a refugee status and went back totalled 28,774.