Number of Refugees in Jordan…Different Sources Cause Confusion in Results

AKEED, Wasfi Khushman

Jordan was not on the list of countries that host the largest number of refugees, published by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) last month. Social media users took note of this fact. This includes Senator Nasser Judeh, who is a former foreign minister. He wondered in a tweet about the reason for not including Jordan on this list.

The list, which is published in the form of an interactive video and infographic, includes six countries only, which are: Turkey, 2.9 million refugees; Pakistan, 1.4 million refugees; Lebanon, 1 million refugees; Iran, 979.4 refugees; Uganda, 940.8 refugees, and Ethiopia, 791.6 refugees. The UNHCR did not explain why the list includes these six countries only.

Although local and foreign media outlets have published reports that Jordan ranks seventh on the list and second in terms of refugee to population ratio, users of interactive platforms deplored this in their comments and posts. They said that Jordan hosts 1.3 million Syrian "refugees," besides others from other nationalities. They based this on statements by officials, in addition to what is published in local media outlets.

What increases confusion is that a nonprofit international organization, which is Amnesty International, placed Jordan at the top of the list of the 10 countries that host refugees the most worldwide. In a report it published in October 2016, it said that the Kingdom hosts 2.7 million refugees. This was celebrated by local and international media outlets. 

Local and Arab media outlets had previously published reports, explaining the difference between what the government reports and what the UNHCR publishes about the number of Syrian refugees in Jordan.

Figures by the Department of Statistics indicate that around 1.3 million Syrians are part of 3 million non-Jordanians living in the Kingdom. They make up one third of the population, which totals 9.5 million.

Many people forget that the statistics of the international organization include only those registered with it. They number 760,000 non-Palestinian refugees, including 650,000 Syrians, according to Mohammed Hawari, spokesman for the UNHCR in Jordan.

Hawari told AKEED that the difference in the number of refugees between the official statistics and the UNHCR statistics is due to the fact that "the UNHCR calculates the number of those registered with it as refugees, while Jordan classifies a refugee as any person who enters its territory from the nationalities that cannot return to their countries for any reason whatsoever." He added that it is not possible to consider the figures issued by both parties as wrong since "each party has a formula for calculating the number of refugees, which is different from the formula of the other party."

He pointed out that Jordan ranks second in the world, after Lebanon, in the number of refugees compared with the population at a ratio of one refugee per 11 citizens. He noted that the number of refugees in Jordan excludes Palestinian refugees, who are the responsibility of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

More than 2 million Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA live in Jordan, including 370,000 in 10 recognized camps.

On the confusion of media outlets over the number of refugees, the UNHCR spokesman urged journalists to deal with the UNHCR efforts from a humanitarian angle so as to have sufficient information about the event to make them realize all details in a clearer manner.

The Jordanian Media Credibility Monitor (AKEED) called Dr. Qasim Zoubi, director general of the Department of Statistics, who said that the department is the authority when it comes to the numbers of residents in Jordan. He pointed out that the census conducted in 2015 showed that Syrians in Jordan totaled 1.3 million, including 650,000 registered with the UNHCR. He hinted that there were reasons, which he did not specify, that make Syrians refrain from registering with the UNHCR. At the same time, he indicated that Jordan depends on its official figures when speaking and negotiating with external parties.

The Jordanian Media Credibility Monitor (AKEED) thinks that confusing the number of Syrians with the number of refugees in the media is due to lack of familiarity with the statistics published by the Department of Statistics and the UNHCR. The Monitor urges journalists to include the figures of both sides in news stories so as to not cause confusion to readers, researchers, and officials.