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'We Can't Do It Anymore': Jordan's King Abdullah Demands Help on Refugees

Refugees from Syria, Palestine, and Iraq now make up around 20 percent of Jordan's population and the country can no longer cope, says its king.
King Abdullah speaks during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015. Photo by Matt Campbell/EPA

The king of Jordan has warned the international community that it must give his country long-term aid to help cope with the huge influx of Syrian refugees, or the "dam is going to burst".

In an interview with the BBC aired on Tuesday ahead of an international donor conference, King Abdullah said the refugee crisis was overloading Jordan's social services and threatening regional stability.

Jordan has already accepted more than 600,000 UN-registered Syrian refugees out of 4.6 million registered worldwide.


The government says another one million Syrians are living there, including those who arrived before the 2011 uprising. Together with Palestinians and Iraqis, refugees make up around 20 percent of the population.

King Abdullah, who is heading to the Supporting Syria and the Region conference in London on Thursday aiming to secure aid promises, told the BBC that 25 percent of Jordan's state budget was spent on helping refugees. "For the first time, we can't do it any more," he said.

"Jordanians are suffering from trying to find jobs, the pressure on infrastructure and for the government, it has hurt us when it comes to the educational system, our healthcare. Sooner or later I think the dam is going to burst," he said. "The psyche of the Jordanian people, I think it's gotten to boiling point."

Related: There Are More Displaced People in the World Than Ever Before

Part of the US-led coalition that is bombing Syria, Jordan has long been praised for helping refugees and been a big beneficiary of foreign aid as a result.

However, it has drawn criticism from western allies and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees over the situation near its border with Syria, where thousands of refugees are being kept stranded far from any aid.  Human rights organizations have highlighted the prevalence of child labor, with the number of Syrian refugee child laborers doubling from 2014 to 2015 up to 60,000.

The situation has deteriorated since Russia started air strikes last September to support President Bashar al-Assad.


King Abdullah said if Jordan was not helped, the refugee crisis would worsen.

"The international community, we've always stood shoulder to shoulder by your side. We're now asking for your help, you can't say no this time," he said.

Related: 12,000 Syrian Refugees Are Stranded in a Desert Purgatory Because Jordan Won't Admit Them

The United Nations wants the international community to fund $7.7 billion of aid projects for Syria and neighbouring countries. However last year's appeal for $2.9 billion only got 43 percent of its goal.

Last Thursday, officials said the European Union (EU) would promise some 2 billion euros ($2.2 billion) during this week's conference to aid Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said last month he would press the EU to relax export rules for Jordan, to help spur economic growth.

"This week is going to be very important for Jordanians to see is there going to be help not only for Syrian refugees but for their own future as well," King Abdullah told the BBC.

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Related: More Than 450,000 Palestinian Refugees Are Set to Miss School Due to UN Funding Shortfall