JORDAN: Defining "hardship" – a new yardstick for Palestinian refugee aid

AMMAN, 6 February 2008 (IRIN) – The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, will adopt new criteria to identify hardship cases among the 1.9 million Palestinian refugees who benefit from its humanitarian assistance programme, according to an UNWRA official.

The aim of the amendment is to ensure better intervention in local communities and to send aid to those who really deserve it, UNRWA spokesman Matar Saqer told IRIN.

"We are currently revising our old criteria to distinguish between absolute poverty and abject poverty cases in order to deliver assistance to the people who actually need it," he said. Only those in abject poverty will be eligible for the cash and food assistance provided to those classified as hardship cases, said Saqer.

He said beneficiaries of assistance also enjoyed other relief services, including health insurance and priority in vocational training programmes.

“Special hardship cases”

In Jordan there are at least 50,000 Palestinian refugees – living either in the kingdom’s 13 refugee camps or in towns and villages – who benefit from the "special hardship cases", or 2.6 per cent of the total refugees registered in Jordan by UNRWA, according to the agency’s figures.

Refugee families who are registered as “special hardship cases” are eligible for food and cash assistance, shelter and are also given priority in the programmes organised by the social services division, including preference in enrolling at vocational training centres.

According to the current assistance programme, when the oldest son in a single parent household reaches 18, the family is no longer eligible for assistance, but from now on, this will change, said Saqer.

The new system, said Saqer, might disqualify families which currently benefit from the services or include new families which are outside the programme.

We are currently revising our old criteria to distinguish between absolute poverty and abject poverty cases in order to deliver assistance to the people who actually need it. 

Further studies will be carried out in the near future to determine which cases will qualify for assistance, he added.

The new criteria will "hopefully be implemented later this year".

The usual beneficiaries are single women who are widows or divorcees or those abandoned by their husbands, the elderly, the chronically ill, refugees with disabilities, or the very young. They are all provided with direct material and financial assistance under the "special hardship'' programme.

The agency provides hardship cases with financial assistance to help them buy essential but unaffordable items such as school clothing or school books as well as food assistance.

The value of food assistance is about US$136 per person annually, and most of it is received as in-kind donations from donor governments in the form of basic foodstuffs such as flour, rice, sugar, milk and cooking oil. Amounts of distributed food items depend on donations, said Saqer.

Vocational training

However, Saqer said special programmes have been designed to help refugees improve their living standards by encouraging them to enrol in vocational training.

"The aim is not only to give financial assistance or food to refugees; we also want them to move up the social ladder in order to live more decently.”

Most refugees arrived in the kingdom after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, while others flooded to the East Bank of the River Jordan after the 1967 Arab war with Israel.

UNRWA is a relief and human development agency created by the UN after the 1948 war between the Arab countries and Israel. It provides education, healthcare, social services and emergency aid to over 4.4 million refugees living in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

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Document Type: Article
Subject: Assistance, Refugees and displaced persons
Publication Date: 06/02/2008