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This post originally appeared on The Hill's Congress Blog.
By Michael Boyce
The people of Jordan have borne the Syrian refugee crisis with real grace - and even, perhaps, a bit of pride. “The Syrians are our brothers,” they say when asked about the thousands of Syrians who have fled here. (No one knows how many there really are.) “They speak the same way as us, they have the same last names. We cannot turn them away.”
In communities across the country, Jordanians have taken Syrian families into their homes and supported them. The government has also done its part by keeping the border open to Syrians, providing nearly-free health care to registered refugees, and placing thousands of Syrian children in the nation’s public schools. But they have done so because they see it as their duty, not because it’s been easy.
“At the time the Iraqi refugees arrived, we were doing okay here in Jordan,” one observer in Amman told me this week. “But the Syrians are coming at a terrible time.”
Indeed, while Jordan has dodged the worst convulsions of the Arab Spring, trouble abounds in this normally quiet country.
Economic growth has stagnated, and the national budget is heading toward a fiscal cliff. Protests about the cost of living have become a regular occurrence, and the country has gone through four prime ministers in the last 18 months.
Adding the Syrian crisis into the mix has only made Jordanians more anxious. With hundreds of refugees arriving every week, the need for social services is growing rapidly even as public spending is being slashed. Refugees are also competing with Jordanians for jobs, putting upward pressure on the country’s 12% unemployment rate.
While you might expect Jordanians to blame their Syrian guests for these problems, they are not. Instead, they are pushing their government to ease the burden on both communities. The government, in turn, is asking its foreign partners - especially the United States - to ease the pain.
As one of two Arab states at peace with Israel, Jordan has received hundreds of millions of dollars in American aid each year. This year it may need even more, since support from Saudi Arabia (another key donor) was halted earlier this year.
Even if Washington bankrolls Jordan once again, the threat of an imploding Syria will remain here in Amman. The volatile city of Dera’a, where the Syrian uprising began, sits just beyond the border; and Jordanians know that thousands of Syrians could arrive within minutes if fighting there escalated. Few are confident that the UN’s observer mission in Syria can succeed, and even fewer believe the government has a plan to deal with the aftermath of its failure.
Facing a fiscal crisis at home, a flood of refugees crossing the border, and a civil war next door, the next six months will be tough for Jordanians and their government. Unless Congress steps in soon to help, this unassuming ally may not remain quiet for long.