Questions Raised Of Possible Corruption, Misuse Of Funds Intended For Syrian Refugees

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    AMMAN, Jordan (MintPress) — Both the U.N. refugee agency and host countries like Jordan say their humanitarian assistance to thousands of displaced Syrians is running on empty, despite international pledges made in Kuwait last month for more than $1.5 billion.

    Andrew Harper, Jordan’s representative with the U.N.’s refugee agency, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), has said that the “funds have not come through.”  His and other U.N. agencies spend about $1 million a day in Jordan on some 1,500 to 3,000 Syrian refugees who are fleeing daily across the border in record numbers. That cost excludes money Jordan and other host countries are spending from their own government coffers, said Jordan’s international cooperation and planner minister, Jaafar Hassan.

    Hassan has warned that the cost of taking in a rising number of Syrian refugees this year, including setting up and operating Zaatari and other planned refugee camps and government support, is estimated at $1 billion, about half of it direct costs on the treasury.

    Given the enormous strain on the cash-strapped kingdom’s water, energy, health and education sectors, Hassan told reporters on a recent visit to Washington that “Jordan is in no way positioned to spend the resources that are needed for this simply because it does not have the resources.” Hassan said Jordan has begun approaching donors on a projected financing plan of $489 million in 2013.

    Jordan’s economic council announced last month that the kingdom had spent more than $833 million on aid for the refugees and that it was unable to sustain a financial burden that has so far siphoned off about 3 percent of its GDP.

    The Jordanian government and its private citizens have been trying to do what they can to aid about 368,000 Syrian refugees escaping nearly two years of civil war. U.N. officials repeatedly point out that Jordan, a country that has been a refuge for hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Palestinians fleeing regional wars over the past 65 years, continues to generously support the latest Syrian arrivals.

    Questions about distribution of funds

    But some local critics say they do not like the way the government has handled refugee aid.  Those who complain usually do so behind closed doors, afraid of arousing the ire of the powers that be. A few others have vocalized concerns, particularly about how the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization (JHCO) carries out its mandate. Until recently, it was the government body responsible for overseeing assistance to Syrian refugees, especially in Zaatari camp and other facilities. A new government agency under Maj. Gen Mohammad al-Zawahreh now has assumed management, while JHCO will continue its humanitarian role.

    Ali Abu Sukkar, who heads the Jordanian-Syrian Association to Help Syrians, said he believes that JHCO “isolated other organizations and monopolized aid supply by insisting that other groups channel their goods and funds” through the government agency.

    He leveled accusations about some practices. Abu Sukkar wondered whether a portion of the aid given to JHCO went to cover overall administrative costs. He also questioned whether the donations received went to help Syrian refugees or whether some funds were diverted to poor Jordanians who are also aided by the government.

    Abu Sukkar complained that those who provide aid to the refugees must first receive permission from the interior ministry to enter Zaatari camp.


    Finding proof for corruption allegations

    Ahmad Uqlah al-Husami, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader and candidate in the latest parliamentary elections in January, said he has received complaints that JHCO may have failed in some cases to distribute funds received for the refugees.

    “I can’t accuse JHCO, but both donors and refugees allege that some funds given were not received,” he said.

    “This is not right, if it’s true. Private donors, unions and social organizations have said they made contributions to JHCO and the camp, but the refugees said they have not received the funds or basic supplies promised,” al-Husami said.

    Al-Husami said citizens know that corruption has been endemic in the Arab world for some time, particularly in government ministries and corporation circles. Demands to tackle such corruption have been at the heart of Arab Spring protests here in Jordan and elsewhere, with calls for greater transparency and accountability from Arab governments. “But it is very difficult to get proof for such allegations,” he adds.

    “Jordan is in the center of a region on fire, still that doesn’t mean it is taking advantage of the situation,” al-Husami said.

    Both Abu Sukkar and al-Husami criticized the system of sponsorship by Jordanian citizens to help Syrian refugees leave Zaatari camp. They claim that some Jordanians are able to become sponsors because they hail from well-known families or tribes or simply have the right connections, whereas others are rejected.  There are also allegations of bribery.

    But Ayman Mufleh, who heads JCHO, denies the charges. He said funds received for Syrian refugees are used for their food, heaters, clothing and other items and not for administrative costs. Donors provide extra funding for additional expenditures, including transportation of goods. He said some also provide money specifically designated for Jordan’s impoverished.

    He also flatly rejected suggestions that prices for meals and dry foods provided to the refugees in Zaatari have been in any way been manipulated.

    Gulf Arab countries, backing Syria’s rebels seeking to overthrow the Bashar Assad regime, provide financial assistance and in-kind contributions to Syrian refugees in Jordan.

    An official from the Saudi government relief organization in Amman, who requested anonymity because he is not allowed to make press statements, said “donations are made directly to those in need.” They include about $750,000 used for refugee school fees, rents and basic goods.

    Iran, which staunchly supports the Assad government, said it expects to provide assistance to Syrian refugees in Jordan in the near future. An Iranian embassy official in Amman, however, did not provide details on the amount of support, the type or when such aid could be expected.

    The majority of Syrian refugees fleeing to Jordan are Sunni Muslims, although there are also some Christian families who have been caught in the crosshairs of clashes between regime and rebel forces.

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    • Norbert Schiller

      Congratulations Dale, nice to see your byline. Your expertise on Middle Eastern affairs will add greatly to the coverage Mint Press can expect from the region.