Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Jamal Hamed Al-Shamayleh, the Jordanian ambassador to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, estimated the number of Syrian refugees in Jordan at 1.3 million, of whom 750,000 entered the Jordanian borders before the Syrian crisis began.
The ambassador told Asharq Al-Awsat that his country is working to ensure better water, food, and electricity services as well as health services for Syrian refugees in the country. Shamayleh also pointed to the efforts of King Abdullah II of Jordan to provide the necessary security protection in the refugee camps, in addition to education services, adding that Syrian students are being admitted to Jordan’s schools and universities.
“Hosting Syrian refugees costs the Jordanian government more than USD 700 million (approximately JMD 500 million) in 2012 alone, increasing the burden on the national budget as well as escalating the economic crisis that is gripping the country,” he said.
Shamayleh added that Jordan was grateful for the Saudi campaign which the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, has launched in support of the Syrian refugees in Jordan. According to the Jordanian ambassador, Saudi Arabia has offered USD 1 billion in aid to assist the Jordanian government in tackling the refugee crisis by providing tents, blankets, water, clothing, food and medicine, as well as mobile housing units. There are an estimated 40,000 mobile housing units in the Zaatari refugee camp in Mafraq.
“The Jordanian government provides concessions and the logistic and administrative help necessary for the aid to reach those who deserve it in direct coordination and cooperation with the Jordanian Hashemite Charity Organization (JHCO), which is authorized by the government to receive and distribute aid,” he said.
“The JHCO also distributes Saudi Arabia’s aid to Syrian refugees in Jordan with the presence and supervision of representatives from the Saudi National Campaign to Support the Brothers in Syria as well as representatives from the embassy of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques in Amman,” Shamayleh added.
The Zaatari refugee camp located to the east of Mafraq province in Jordan was opened on July 28, 2012 to provide shelter for the Syrians fleeing their country across the Jordanian borders. The 2.8 square mile refugee camp, designed to hold 60,000, is thought to house approximately 160,000 people, with 10-13 Syrian children being born every day in the camp, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF).
The increasing number of camp residents has put more pressure on the Jordanian government, which appears to be struggling to meet even the most basic needs of what has been recently described as the country’s fourth largest city.
Regarding the detainee swap deal between Riyadh and Amman, Shamayleh told Asharq Al-Awsat that all the necessary constitutional and legal procedures have been established to approve the deal which will come into force as of mid-August.
The detainee swap will involve a total of 260 prisoners with 200 Jordanian prisoners in Saudi Arabia being returned to their homeland and 60 Saudi prisoners in Jordan returning to the kingdom.
The ambassador also reaffirmed his country’s opposition to Iranian involvement in the Syrian crisis, and called for a peaceful transition of power in Syria.
In terms of Jordanian membership to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Shamayleh told Asharq Al-Awsat that Amman has entered into a strategic partnership with the GCC member states. He also indicated that committees in several areas on both sides have been formed to discuss details leading to the establishment of the strategic partnership.
Moreover, Shamayleh said that the GCC states have offered Jordan a USD 5 billion grant to fund developmental projects in the next five years.