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It is important to know that in addition to the newly arriving Syrians, Jordan continues to provide protection to an estimated 250,000 to 450,000 Iraqi refugees, who now have been in exile for so long they constitute a new protracted refugee population.
The Iraqis fled from the war and sectarian violence beginning in 2003, and at the height of the violence it was estimated that almost a million Iraqis were living in Jordan. But they were never put in refugee camps. Instead the U.S. and other nations contributed funds to help Jordan open their schools and health care systems to the refugees. UNHCR began an innovative cash assistance program that helped the most vulnerable refugees pay rent and buy food. Other relief organizations provided specialized services for those traumatized and most needy.
We believe that it is not too late for the international community to build upon the structure that was put in place for the Iraqi refugees. We should support the "bailing out" system, help fund access to health care and schools, provide direct cash assistance for rent and food, and involve and support the local aid and relief organizations that have demonstrated their willingness and capability to respond to the needs of Syrian refugees. We can change course and instead of enlarging the uninhabitable refugee camp, we can invest in expanding the local capacity to assist refugees and their host communities in Jordan.
After 50 years it is clear that living in refugee camps exacts an unconscionable price from refugees. The refugees receive basic food, water and shelter but are deprived of their freedom, the right to work and self-determination.
Currently, more than 8 million refugees have lived in refugees camps worldwide for 10 years or more. We fear that in 2022, we will witness a new generation born in Za'atari refugee camp with no hope and no future. This is "warehousing" of human beings in the making.
Now is the time for the world's policy makers to evaluate the way we respond to humanitarian and refugee emergencies. We can learn from the plight of Syrian refugees and make the improvements that these refugees desperately need - today.
Lavinia Limon is president and CEO of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.