Baird announces $13-million in aid to help Syrian refugees in Jordan

OTTAWA and DUBAI — The Globe and Mail

Syrian refugees wait to cross the border to Turkey at Bab El-Hawa on the outskirts of Idlib, near the Syrian-Turkey border, January 13, 2013. (ABDALGHNE KAROOF/REUTERS)

Ottawa is worried that the civil war in Syria could destabilize neighbouring Jordan and other countries in the region, as a massive influx of refugees strains government and donor resources.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees have poured into Jordan during the past two years, filling refugee camps along the border and placing added pressure on Jordan’s already weak economy. On Sunday, the Canadian government pledged $13-million in humanitarian aid to help Jordan provide food, water and shelter for refugees now living in the country.

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Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird made the announcement from Amman, where he met with Jordanian officials to discuss the crisis in Syria and to visit Canada’s new embassy in the country. Mr. Baird is on a 12-day tour of the Middle East, which will also include stops in Qatar, Bahrain and Israel.

In a meeting with Mr. Baird, Jordan’s foreign minister, Nasser Judeh, said that if his country’s sprawling Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees were a city, it would be the country’s fifth largest, according to a Canadian official. And Mr. Judeh pointed out that the impact of refugees on Jordan’s population of 6 million would be similar to the entire population of Canada seeking refuge in the United States.

Canada had previously sent $11.5-million to help Jordan’s government handle the influx of refugees, including $1.5-million in funding for Jordan’s military.

“Jordan has consistently demonstrated a leadership role in the pursuit of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East, and it continues to lead in the face of the ongoing crisis in Syria,” Mr. Baird said in a statement on Sunday. “Jordan’s generosity in hosting an influx of Syrian refugees is a model for all.”

Jordan’s King Abdullah is widely viewed by Western countries as an important stabilizing force in the region. But the growing refugee pressure is putting the king in an increasingly difficult position, as Jordanians grow frustrated with the added strain.

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister said the two countries have a “close and important relationship.” Canada and Jordan signed a free-trade agreement last fall.

Mr. Baird said an estimated 2,000 Syrian refugees arrive in Jordan every day, and praised the government for taking them in.

More than a million refugees have fled Syria to neighbouring Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt since the fighting began two years ago.

Before his departure for the Middle East last week, Mr. Baird told reporters that the crisis in Syria was one of the issues that would be “top-of-mind” during his trip.

After leaving Jordan, he will make stops in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Cyprus, Israel and the West Bank.

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