Czech PM promises increased aid to Jordan during visit

Zaatari refugee camp, photo: CTK

Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka has just completed his first foreign visit to a Middle East country. And in his meetings with top officials in Jordan and King Abdullah II, prime minister Sobotka promised to boost Czech foreign aid to the country which is hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees from Iraq and Syria.

Zaatari refugee camp,  photo: CTK
The Kingdom of Jordan is both one of the strategic locations for the ongoing conflict in the Middle East and of the refugee crisis. The country, around the same size as the Czech Republic, is in the frontline of the fight against Islamic State and, along with Turkey and Lebanon, one of the biggest hosts of the millions of refugees from the conflicts in the region.

More than 650,000 refugees, mostly from the civil war in neighbouring Syria as well as the sporadic unrest in Iraq, are being hosted by Jordan. That is around one refugee for every 10 Jordanians. And Czech aid for helping those refugees was one of the main themes of the Czech prime minister’s trip.

On Sunday, Sobotka visited the sprawling Zaatari camp in the far north of the country near the Syrian border. Now in its third year of existence, the camp is a home to around 80,000 refugees and is increasingly taking on the features of a permanent settlement.

Bohuslav Sobotka in Zaatari camp,  photo: CTK
Czech aid to the Zaatari camp has included helping to improve the electricity grid, which has resulted in more reliable power supplies and cut the electricity bill for the complex. This year the Czech Republic is spending around 45 million crowns through the United Nations refugee fund on helping improve conditions in the camp. Other help has been channeled to refugees who have been taken in by towns and villages in the north of Jordan.

Prime Minister Sobotka said during his visit to the camp that one of the main priorities that was stressed to him during his two-day whirlwind visit was that existing foreign aid needed to be continued and, if possible, increased.

“What I have heard today during talks with the King of Jordan and with the prime minister of Jordan as well as today, with representatives of the United Nations and with charities at the refugee camp, is that what is crucial to them is that the donors continue with their help and that they are not forgotten. The war in Syria is continuing and the people that have fled to Jordan have nowhere to go back to.”

Prague now says that it is looking to boost its humanitarian support in Jordan to around 100 million crowns next year.

Bohuslav Sobotka,  King Abdullah II,  photo: CTK
The Czech prime minister also discussed how the country can boost its military aid and cooperation with Jordan, one of the fellow members of the global coalition fighting against Islamic State.

Czech support in the past has been mainly targeted at training the Jordanian army to deal with weapons of mass destruction. In return, Sobotka said that the Jordanians might help train the Czech military in cultural sensitivity in its preparations for foreign missions.