AMMAN, Jordan – On the eve of his visit to a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced an additional $100 million in funding Thursday to help the kingdom deal with an influx of Syrians fleeing their nation’s ongoing civil war.
More than 576,000 Syrian refugees are now in Jordan, comprising more than nine per cent of the country’s population. Their arrival has strained the kingdom’s resources and infrastructure.
Harper is set to visit the Za’atri refugee camp, home to tens of thousands of Syrians, on Friday as part of his first-ever visit to Jordan.
The new Canadian funds will be spent over five years, while another $5 million will be provided to help Jordan mitigate threats posed by Syrian weapons and materials of mass destruction. Harper’s announcement came just three days after he announced $66 million in aid to Palestinians.
But unlike his visit to the ramshackle presidential compound in Ramallah on Monday, Harper was surrounded by splendour when he met with King Abdullah of Jordan in his elegant hilltop palace, which boasts a view of Jerusalem, about 60 kilometres to the west, on clear days.
Harper and his delegation, including International Trade Minister Ed Fast, sat down for lunch with the king and Jordanian officials in a grand dining room featuring an intricately carved teak ceiling, marble floors, sumptuous drapery and portraits of former kings adorning the walls.
King Abdullah, son of the late King Hussein, expressed gratitude for Canada’s help.
“Your leadership standing by Jordan and the challenges that we have been facing is something that I continue to commend,” he said.
“There are major challenges ahead of us in this region and we continue to look to Canada’s support working with us together to try and solve these problems. I know as brothers, we’ll be able to move forward and overcome these challenges.”
Harper returned the compliment.
“We view the kingdom of Jordan as certainly one of our most important partners on all levels, in terms of commerce, in terms of development, in terms of security in this part of the world,” he said.
“We have great challenges before us but I think we have a great will to tackle them together, and a great shared understanding of what needs to be done.”
Harper then went on to meet with Jordan’s prime minister, Abdullah Ensour. Prime ministers in Jordan are appointed by the king; six different men have held the position over the past five years.
“It’s wonderful to be in this country,” Harper told Ensour, who echoed King Abdullah’s expression of gratitude to Canada.
The Canadian assistance to Jordan is aimed at helping the economy and delivering basic services, including education, both to Jordanians and to Syrian refugees. Za’atri is the second-largest refugee camp in the world, with 12,000 students crammed into three schools.
“Jordan has responded to the plight of Syrian civilians with unwavering compassion and generosity by accepting hundreds of thousands of refugees,” Harper said in a statement announcing the aid.
“Canada is proud to be able to help Jordan address the development and security challenges it is facing as a result of the Syrian conflict.”
Canada had earlier committed $110 million to help Jordan deal with the Syrian refugees in health, education and other needs. The federal government had also set aside $47.7 million for security-related assistance to address the impact of the Syrian crisis.
All of this is on top of $203.5 million for international humanitarian assistance efforts in Syria and neighbouring countries since January 2012.
Harper also announced Friday that $4.7 million will be allocated to help child refugees from Syria receive basic education. An estimated 35 per cent of the Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war country are school-aged children.
“Jordan continues to show compassion and generosity by receiving Syrian refugees fleeing the crisis in their country,” Harper said. “The support announced today will help ensure that all children in Jordan, whether local or refugees, have access to a proper education.”
World Vision Canada praised the new aid in a statement on Thursday, saying it “illustrates the generosity of Canadians in helping children and their families in times of need.”
Harper’s two days in Jordan follow a triumphant visit to Israel, during which he was treated like royalty by Israeli officials and citizens alike for his unflinching support of the Jewish state.
Jordan and Israel have had official diplomatic relations since they signed a peace treaty in 1994. King Abdullah views Israel as a vital regional ally in the Middle East.