Middle East

Aid cuts driving Jordan's Syrian refugees to risk all

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Media caption'Cuts are forcing refugees to flee Jordan'

In a rented flat, in a poor district of Amman, it is playtime for Rana, a refugee from Syria.

The cherubic little girl sits on the concrete floor, pretending to cook dinner.

She is the same age as Alan Kurdi, the Syrian boy whose body washed up last week on a Turkish beach.

Soon she will take her place in an overcrowded smuggler's dinghy just as he did.

Her doting father, Mounib Zakiya, plans to take his children and grandchildren from the Jordanian capital to the Turkish coast, to be smuggled into Europe.

He says he is leaving Amman, after three years, for one reason - his meagre aid has been cut off.

"It's safe here," said the former estate agent, "and life is good. But we have to buy food and milk for the children. We have to pay for medical care. How can I pay the rent?"

Image caption Mounib Zakiya (here with daughter Rana) says he is prepared to escape by any means
Image caption The plan is for the entire Zakiya family to be smuggled from the Jordanian capital to the Turkish coast and on to Europe
Image caption Mr Zakiya says he can no longer afford to pay food and medicine bills

His family of nine was living on about $1 (£0.65) a day per person. Now even that has gone.

He says the United Nations and the international community are forcing him to risk all on the open seas.

"They bear 75% of the responsibility," he said, cradling Rana on his lap.

"They have opened a gate to death, and are making us walk through it.

"It's better to die fast on the journey, than die slowly, watching your kids starve."

'Pushed to the edge'

Mr Zakiya is one of many Syrian refugees in Jordan who have lost their lifeline.

For months the World Food Programme (WFP) has been cutting aid to the bone due to a lack of donations. It reduced the monthly stipend for about 211,000 Syrians by half.

At the beginning of September it went further. Almost 230,000 Syrian refugees - living in cities, not camps - had their aid stopped entirely. Help is still being provided for 100,000 living in camps, but there, too, funds could run out in November.

Image caption "It's better to go back to Syria to die there" - Adnan Ghanoum
Image caption Mr Ghanoum heard by SMS that UN aid was ending

Aid workers say that if refugees cannot get help where they are, they will risk their lives to find it elsewhere.

"If people were receiving enough assistance and were able to have a somewhat stable life where they are, they would not make that decision," said the WFP's Dina El-Kassaby.

"But unfortunately, some people are pushed to the edge."

Adnan Ghanoum is one of them. The former factory owner from Damascus, aged 61, is weighed down with worries about his extended family.

He has 19 relatives living with him in Amman, including a disabled daughter.

Mr Ghanoum says he almost had a heart attack when he read the SMS saying his aid was ending.

"We have no future here in Jordan," he said. "There is no education, no work, and no money. We have been eating flour and onions for a week."

He is now thinking of returning to the war zone from which he fled. "It's better to go back to Syria to die there," he said, "and rest in peace."

Deadly journey

If he goes back home, he will not be the only one.

Aid agencies say the numbers returning to Syria have doubled since the cuts began.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Jordan has one of the biggest populations of Syrian refugees, many living at Zaatari refugee camp

And the flow of refugees from Jordan to Europe is expected to increase substantially.

Western governments are partly to blame because they did not provide enough support in the region, according to one senior aid worker.

He says it would have "made sense" for Europe to invest here but there was "penny-pinching and ineptitude".

Mounib Zakiya says he and his family would stay in Jordan, if their aid was restored.

But he has already packed blankets and winter clothing for their journey to Europe. He knows they could perish on the way - just like his old neighbours from Syria who drowned two weeks ago.

The family of five slipped beneath the waves as they tried to cross the Aegean Sea.

"If we die, I hope it will be on the TV and everyone will see it," he said sombrely.

"Then maybe they will find a solution for Syria."

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