10 Facts About the Syrian Refugee Crisis in Jordan

World Food Program USA
October 29, 2020

The crisis in Syria has become one of the most complicated humanitarian operations for the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP). More than 6.7 million people are displaced inside the country, with thousands more forced from their homes every day. These 10 facts explain why the situation is so dire, and how we’re stepping in to help.

1. Many Syrian Refugees Fled to Jordan

Since the start of the conflict in Syria in 2011, Jordan has shouldered the impact of a massive influx of Syrian refugees. Today, Syrian refugees account for more than 10 percent of Jordan’s population, placing immense pressure on the country’s over-stretched resources at one of the most difficult economic periods in its history.

2. Refugees in Jordan Rely on Humanitarian Assistance

Around 650,000 Syrians – that’s more than the entire population of Memphis, Tennessee – have registered with UNHCR in Jordan (the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees). The vast majority of these refugees live in cities and towns instead of camps, which means they must find a way to pay for things like rent and transportation. But only a limited number of them have work permits, so most of these families still rely on humanitarian assistance to meet their most basic needs.

3. Some Refugees Are Permitted to Work

Since July 2016, the Jordanian government has granted more than 100,000 work permits to Syrian refugees, allowing them to work legally and earn an income for their families.

4. Many Refugees Remain Stranded

More than 10,000 Syrians remain stranded at the northeastern border between Jordan and Syria in a precarious, informal settlement called Rukban. The U.N. World Food Programme, along with other U.N. agencies and NGOs, has been providing food assistance to this population. But humanitarian access, remains difficult due to security risks and border closures.

Many Syrian refugees fleeing are stranded in the Rukban camp
Photo: WFP/Marwa Awad

This family is just a part of the thousands of people stranded inside the Rukban settlement in Syria. Living conditions are extremely tough due to the remoteness of the settlement and the harsh desert climate.

5. The Rukban Camp Situation is Deteriorating

In November 2018, a convoy of humanitarian agencies, including the U.N. World Food Programme, reached Rukban with lifesaving food and supplies for the first time. Today, the U.N. World Food Programme is concerned that conditions in the camp have deteriorated further, with a number of children reported to have died of preventable causes. Despite the dire situation, humanitarian organizations have limited access or means to provide basic supplies and services.

UN WFP deliver food and medical supplies to Syrian refugees in Rukban
Photo: WFP/Marwa Awad

WFP and UN entered Rukban on Feb 7th, 2019 and began offloading WFP, UNHCR, UNFPA, UNICEF and WHO assistance at select distribution points. The supplies will serve 40,000 people and provide enough vaccinations for 10,000 children.

6. Zaatari is the Second Largest Refugee Camp in the World

Though most Syrian refugees in Jordan live in host communities, the country is now home to the second largest refugee camp in the world, known as Zaatari. The camp first opened in 2012 less than 10 miles from the Syrian border and has since become Jordan’s 4th largest “city.” Today, roughly 77,000 Syrian refugees live there, in rows of prefabricated shelters provided by international relief agencies. Now, the first cases of COVID-19 have been reported at Zaatari and at another camp, Azraq.

The Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan is the 2nd largest in the world
Photo: U.S. State Department

An aerial view of the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan as seen on July 18, 2013, from a helicopter carrying U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.

7. WFP is Providing Food Assistance to Refugees in Jordan

In Jordan, all eligible Syrian refugees receive a monthly cash or food voucher from the U.N. World Food Programme, which enables them to purchase food items in any of our partner shops throughout the country. Families in refugee camps also receive fresh bread. The U.N. World Food Programme is currently providing food assistance to nearly 500,000 refugees in Jordan.

WFP provides food vouchers so Syrian refugees can purchase food
Photo: WFP/Mohammad Batah

Hamda, a Syrian refugee from Daraa, buys fresh groceries in Jordan’s King Abdullah Park refugee camp.

8. Half of All Syrian refugees in Jordan are Children

To help keep kids healthy and in the classroom, the U.N. World Food Programme provides nutritious school meals – and healthy snacks – that boost enrollment and attendance rates.

WFP provides school meals for children in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan

Syrian schoolchildren line up for assembly in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.

9. WFP Employs Syrian Refugees

In Spring 2016, the U.N. World Food Programme launched its first “Healthy Kitchens Initiative” in the Zaatari camp, in which Syrian women are employed to cook fresh, healthy school lunches for the camp’s boys and girls using locally grown vegetables, grains and fruit. These homegrown school meals provide children with the right nutrition and energy to focus in the classroom while supporting local food producers and providing jobs to primarily female-headed households.

WFP employs Syrian refugee women to cook food
Photo: Reuters/Muhammad Hamed

Workers prepare meals for students as part of WFP’s project to provide healthy meals to students and raise awareness of good eating habits.

10. WFP Provides Cash and Food Vouchers

By distributing cash and food vouchers instead of traditional rations, the U.N. World Food Programme provides a fresher and more diverse diet to Syrian refugees while supporting the country’s economy. And to improve access to food assistance, we’ve expanded our ATM network, allowing refugees to access cash through more than 800 ATMs around Jordan with their assigned e-cards.

In July of this year, the U.N. World Food Programme had injected roughly $14 million dollars  into Jordan’s economy via its cash assistance to Syrian refugees. To date, this figure is more than $600 million.


Jordan’s exceptional solidarity with the 1.3 million Syrians it hosts – more than half of whom are refugees – has tested the country’s resilience over time. While humanitarian assistance is acting as a buffer, food security among Syrian refugees in Jordan remains precarious. You can help by sending a box of food today.

Just $75 can feed a family of five for an entire month. Join us.


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