On Friday the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’s Ambassador to the United States made a speech in downtown Minnesota at the Minneapolis Club. Her speech was a hit with the Global Minnesota’s membership, which had sponsored the program and filled the M Club’s third floor dining room to capacity.
Ambassador Dina Kawar is both impressive and unusual. Unusual by being a female and a Christian, either of which would likely have disqualified her for such a role at most Middle East nations; and impressive, having been the first Arab woman to have been named a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and to have presided over it. She is self-confident, stylish and attractive, and looks younger than her 56 years of age.
Strategically, the Ambassador is an expert on the United States. She is a graduate of Mills College (San Francisco Bay area), and earned a masters in International Relations from Columbia University in New York.
Ambassador Kawar told her audience that Jordan lives in a very “tough neighborhood,” which the Ambassador summarized (I paraphrase) “Jordan has a problem of some kind on every side. Each one capable of exploding and changing everything with just short notice.” These are those neighbors:
- Jordan’s two Northern neighbors are LEBANON – which has become a battleground between surrogates from Saudi Arabia and Iran; and SYRIA – a nation in the 7th year of a civil war which has killed about half a million people and caused 6 million to flee, including 1.5 million into Jordan (who live in or near ten large refugee camps).
- Its eastern neighbor is IRAQ – which has become more calm, but the source of another 0.5 million refugees which have remained in Jordan after the Iraq War ended.
- To the south is rapidly changing and more assertive SAUDI ARABIA – which under its new King seems ready to go to war with Iran to stop Iranian expansion.
- To the west is Jordan’s long border with ISRAEL – the source of almost constant agitation by Jordan’s more than 2 million registered Palestinian refugees (about 20% of whom also live in refugee camps).
These refugee groups (Syrian 1.5 million, Iraqi 0.5 million, Palestinian 2.0 million), total about 4 million persons, or 42% of Jordan’s population of 9.5 million. They are non-citizens, non-voting, and generally disinterested in assimilation into a Jordan culture. It is the challenges created by this large refugee population for which Jordan has become best known.
The UN reports that the cost per refugee to the Jordanian government is about $3,000 per year. Given Jordan’s small GDP (about one seventh the size of that for the State of Minnesota, where the Ambassador was speaking) means that Jordan’s economy is sustainable only because of large grants, mainly the United States, which in 2015 for example, pledged $3 billion over three years.
Ambassador Kawar believes that the best solution is to return these refugees to safe zones, overseen by the UN, in their own countries. But the safe zone solution pre-supposes the existence of some actual peaceful geography in each country. No one is predicting such locations at present.
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America’s very large GDP results in disposal income per resident of about $53,000 per person. That wealth has created an “immigration magnet.” Mexico for example, has a per person disposable income only one third as high, and that means significantly higher wages for even the least skilled, available just by crossing at some location on our two thousand-mile border. How could they not be tempted to ignore our low penalty illegal immigration laws?
Aggressively returning certain categories of illegal immigrants to their country of origin, would reduce the deported individual’s standard of living, but not otherwise harm that person. It’s possible that a more aggressive policy to do so is the intent of the current administration. Whether congress has the bravery to do so is another question. But that option exists.
Such clear humane options are not available to Jordan. In the meantime, due largely to huge financial assistance by the United States, and others, the world is benefiting greatly from Ambassador Kawar’s country handling such a large share of the world’s refugee problem.