Jordan’s swift and near total lockdown has kept Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in check. But it has also put enormous pressure on the kingdom’s poorest and most vulnerable residents.
Getting enough to eat has become a daily struggle for many refugees, and accessing education is difficult for those without laptops, tablets or access to the Internet. Most households have one smartphone at best.
“The difficulty is when you have a household with five kids, one phone, and a limited Internet package,” says Tamara Alrifai, a spokesperson for United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which administers support for Palestinian refugees in Jordan and elsewhere.
The interest of many international donors in Jordan has recently focused on post-educational economic empowerment, such as job skills, and few have shifted back to the pressing humanitarian or educational needs that have been highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The kingdom enacted a stringent country-wide lockdown on March 21. Earlier that week it had already closed borders, schools, public venues, businesses and offices. Residents are only allowed to leave the house between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. and have to go on foot to local pharmacies and food shops. The policy has kept the incidence of Covid-19 low—there were only 397 cases reported as of April 14, and no cases have been detected in refugee camps so far. But the lockdown has also taken a toll on the economy, which was already struggling with high unemployment and public debt. (See a related article, “Jordan Data Suggests Universities Contribute to Unemployment.”)
Hardships for Refugees Get Worse
Jordan is home to over two million Palestinian refugees, residing in camps administered by UNRWA; about 650,000 Syrian refugees, some of whom live in camps but many of whom reside in Amman and other Jordanian cities; as well as refugees from Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Iraq.
Refugees have been particularly hard-hit by the lockdown. All movement out of camps has been halted, and the informal and daily work that refugees were most likely to have, such as in restaurants and on construction sites, has ground to a halt.