AZRAQ REFUGEE CAMP, Jordan (AP) — Jordan's prime minister warned Saturday that it will be "very, very difficult" to keep absorbing Syrian refugees unless his country receives significant economic aid and easier access to European markets.
Abdullah Ensour made the link between refugee admissions and aid in unusually blunt comments Saturday, during a visit to the Azraq refugee camp. He spoke ahead of next week's Syria conference where pledges of some $9 billion are being sought for 2016 to alleviate the fallout from the five-year-old civil war.
The conflict has uprooted millions of Syrians, including more than 4 million who fled their homeland. Most live in overburdened regional host countries such as Jordan, which has taken in about 630,000.
Deteriorating conditions in the host countries driven by aid shortfalls have prompted hundreds of thousands of Syrians to move to Europe.
The upcoming aid conference in London will try to find ways to keep more refugees in the region, including by putting large numbers to work and making them less dependent on aid. Currently, most refugees are not allowed to work legally in Jordan and Lebanon, which face high domestic unemployment.
Ensour on Saturday warned of possible changes in Jordan's refugee policy.
"We have opened our borders," he said. "We will continue to do so provided that others come and help up help the Syrians ... I don't mean just sending cash or grants. I want them to help the economy at large, that's to say help the budget, help export ... our products because if these people (Syrians) have to join the industry, then the industry has to sell elsewhere."
If such support is not received, "then it would be very, very difficult for us to continue the way that we did in the past," he added.
Jordan and Lebanon have already tightened entry restrictions for refugees in recent months.
About 17,000 Syrians, including women and children, are stranded in rough conditions in a remote desert area on the Jordanian border, many already waiting for months to enter the kingdom. Jordan only lets in several dozen a day, citing the need for stringent security checks; officials say many of the refugees come from areas controlled by Islamic State extremists.
International aid agencies have called on Jordan to speed up security checks and move refugees to the Azraq camp, which stands largely empty.