Thursday 18 February 2016 3:17 pm

Want to help Syrian refugees? Go on holiday to Jordan

Catherine Neilan is head of politics and investigations at City A.M.

Catherine Neilan is head of politics and investigations at City A.M.

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As the war in Syria nears its fifth anniversary, the plight of civilians fleeing the carnage of Assad’s regime and Islamic State’s so called caliphate is all too apparent. But what we don’t see is the affect the refugee crisis is having on neighbouring Jordan.

Next week King Abdullah II will travel to Washington DC for talks with President Obama on combatting IS and stopping its spread. They will also discuss supporting Syrian and Iraqi refugees in a crucial visit for the ruler to highlight his country’s frontline humanitarian role.

There are more now than 1.4 million Syrians in the Hashemite kingdom, which according to UNHCR, includes 635,324 refugees who’ve arrived since the civil war.

Scattered across Jordan, they place strain upon public services in urban areas as far apart as Amman and Aqaba. This in a country of 6.9 million people with a high unemployment rate of 22 per cent. King Abdullah says his country is now at “boiling point” because of this influx and the pressure it’s created upon the economy.

While the Jordanian response to the crisis must be applauded, we too must now do our bit to help one of our closest allies in the Middle East survive and help the refugees.

Jordan doesn’t need our handouts nor our charity. But what it really could do with is us visiting. While 15 per cent of the economy is based on tourism there is potential for more but it's natural and historic attractions have suffered since the rise of Islamic State.

At the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Petra are renowned Nabatean ruins but visitor numbers there have fallen from 800,000 in 2010 to half that number last year. While visitors to nearby Wadi Rum, the dried up desert bed known for its Bedouins, were down from 134,000 in 2011 to 92,000 last year.

Jordan has immense potential to educate and entertain tourists – from the Roman ruins at Jerash and Amman to the Gulf of Aqaba with its seaside resorts. Public transport from north to south is a safe and secure venture, offering an increasingly rare taste of the Middle East and Arab life in a region torn apart by Islamists.

Later this year, Jordan will be commemorating 100 years since the Great Arab Revolt which helped free the country from Ottoman rule. So a perfect time to see Aqaba – where TE Lawrence fought, as well as biblical sites including Al-Maghtas where John the Baptist was baptised.

Now is a good a time as any to do our bit to help our Jordanian friends by visiting and boosting their tourism industry, in an economy heavily relied upon by Syrian refugees.