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UNHCR says refugee hosting countries should not be forgotten

  AMMAN, Feb. 12 (Xinhua) -- United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Chief Filippo Grandi on Monday said refugee hosting countries should not be forgotten, the state-run Petra news agency reported.

  He made the remarks during a visit to Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees on the start of a three-day visit to Jordan as part of a broader mission including Lebanon, Turkey and Syria, aimed at meeting with government officials and refugee families across the region.

  "Countries like Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt are making big efforts to support the refugees during the ongoing crisis and they shall not be forgotten by the international community," Grandi said.

  He called on the donor countries "to pledge funds to these countries and consider the responsibility that the host communities are taking."

  "This is my third visit to Jordan and it is not by chance that the kingdom is my first stop in this regional tour," the commissioner said.

  He also commented on aid to Syrians stranded in the no man's land between Jordan and Syria. "The individuals stranded in this area are internally displaced within Syria, and therefore, it is the Syrian government who holds responsibility for them."

  Grandi also hailed Jordan's efforts to boost employment among Syrian refugees, saying greater international support for such schemes was needed to lift millions of Syrians across the region out of poverty.

  Of some 657,000 registered Syrian refugees in Jordan, more than 80 percent live below the poverty line on less than three U.S. dollars a day, mirroring the situation of more than 5.5 million Syrian refugees across the region.

  After years of exile, families are slipping deeper into debt and struggling to meet their basic needs.

  "I want to commend the government of Jordan for having facilitated schemes that allow Syrian refugees to have jobs," the UN High Commissioner for Refugees told a news conference in Jordan's Zaatari refugee camp.

  "What I will say to donors is we need to invest more in these schemes," he said in a UNHCR statement.

  Grandi noted that Jordan has so far issued more than 88,000 work permits to Syrians, as part of a 2016 "compact" deal that also increased international aid to the country. The majority of permits were issued for the agriculture and construction sectors, with women accounting for around 5 percent of the total.

  Grandi hailed the "new way" to support refugees, which does not make them dependent exclusively on handouts of food or cash.

  "It allows them to earn money, to have the dignity of having work, and to also build skills, especially for women, which will be very useful when they go home," he said.

  On his third visit to Jordan as high commissioner, he also met with refugees living inside a secure area of Azraq camp, located in the country's remote northeastern desert.

  Many of the around 8,000 individuals living in the fenced-off area have been there since mid-2016, while they were among more than 21,000 Syrians transferred to the camp after spending months stranded at the border.

  Grandi acknowledged the government's security concerns, which to date have seen some 13,000 cleared to join the general camp population, but said UNHCR was worried about the impact of such an extended period of confinement on those remaining.