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Helping Jordan to 'bear this burden'  Join our daily free Newsletter

MENAFN - Jordan Times - 12/08/2012

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(MENAFN - Jordan Times) Last week, more than 3,400 Syrian refugees slipped across the border into northern Jordan, many with nothing but the clothes they stood in. Even backpacks might have marked them as opponents of the regime fleeing the country.

As it was, some were fired on. Tragically, some children arrived on their own.

In two camps - one assembled, as it happens, by Australians among others - I spoke to some of the dusty, exhausted, traumatised refugees.

Since March 2011, Jordan has received 145,000 Syrians. And, of course, that's on top of an estimated 450,000 Iraqis and nearly two million Palestinian refugees.

With Jordan's limited resources, the influx of Syrian refugees imposes enormous economic strains. Estimates are that the full cost of 150,000 refugees could be around 428 million.

I just spent three days in Jordan talking to leaders, visiting refugee camps and holding discussions on interfaith dialogue and the overlap of cultures. It was hard not be impressed by the worldliness of a leadership which has steered the country since it gained independence in 1946.

Jordan lives in a tough neighbourhood. And there is now a Syrian refugee crisis. This week I was proud to announce an extra AUD4 million to help refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Australia's total assistance now stands at AUD20.5 million, the fourth largest national donor. This pays for tents, blankets, food, packs of toiletries and child protection personnel.

I have instructed Australian ambassadors to make urgent representations to other nations to increase their aid and am phoning foreign ministers to respond to this international appeal.

King Abdullah made a speech in Davos in 2004 - which I was lucky enough to hear - referring to the need to "avert the clash of civilisations and help the overlap of cultures". I explored this idea last Sunday in Amman with leaders of the Muslim and Christian communities.

Dr Kamel Abu Jaber, a former foreign minister and now head of the Royal Institute of Interfaith Studies, said religious and cultural overlap is part of day-to-day life.

A Christian minority of six per cent - of which he is one - lives and works with the Muslim majority. This reminded me of an older Middle East where Christians, Jews and Muslims worshipped and worked alongside one another.

"I am a Christian by faith," said Abu Jaber.

"I am a Muslim by culture and identity."

One of his colleagues noted that Christianity and Islam are the closest of religions: Muslims recognise Jesus Christ as a revered prophet, Christians as the son of God.

Jordan's respected ambassador to Australia, Rima Alaadeen, made the important point that the Jordanian spirit is not just tolerance - with its tone of condescension or passivity - but acceptance and respect.

Given the horror of sectarian bloodshed now manifest in Syria, this very language is welcome.

The world may have taken for granted the moderation of Jordan. But as Syria's distress seeps across the border, it is now time for the international community to dig a little deeper and help Jordan bear this burden.

The writer is Australia's minister for foreign affairs. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.


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