Canada's FM visits Syrian refugee camp in Jordan

Associated Press
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird talks to the Syrian refugees  at Zaatari refugee camp,  in Mafraq, Jordan, Saturday, Aug. 11, 2012.  (AP photo/Mohammad Hannon)
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AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Canada's foreign minister pledged $6.5 million in additional aid to Jordan in its efforts to help displaced Syrians after seeing a refugee tent city and calling the worsening situation in neighboring Syria "tremendously horrifying."

John Baird praised Jordan, calling it an "incredible example to the world" on the frontlines of the Syrian crisis, saying that the country "should not stand alone."

"Jordan is committed to helping the Syrian people at their greatest hour of need and Canada is proud to support you as you welcome tens of thousands of Syrian refugees across your borders," Baird said at a joint press conference with his Jordanian counterpart, Nasser Judeh in the capital Amman, where he made the aid announcement.

Jordan hosts 150,000 displaced Syrians, more than any other country. Fighting in Syria's largest city Aleppo and other recent clashes is sending ever larger numbers of Syrians to neighboring countries.

Both foreign ministers said they were deeply affected seeing the Syrian refugee children at the newly-opened Zaatari desert camp earlier in the day, where more than 5,074 Syrians are housed.

"It is tremendously important for the world to see the victims of Assad's repression and to see the conditions in those camps and be inspired to do more," Baird said.

"We both left with heavy hearts," Judeh added. It's hard to see children in their prime uprooted from their natural homes and environment and be in a refugee camp."

Baird said that as difficult as life can be in a refugee camp, "I can't imagine how horrifying it is to flee your home and risk life and limb for you and your family to escape this regime."

He added that Canada has harshly condemned the military onslaught by Syria on its citizens and has imposed the toughest of sanctions. It also has provided non-lethal support to the opposition, mainly by aiding the Syrian National Council opposition group.

Saturday's aid pledge comes on top of $8.5 million Baird said Canada is already providing to the international humanitarian response to violence in Syria.

Both Baird and his counterpart said a political solution is the way out of the crisis.

Referring to the highest-ranking Syrian to enter Jordan, Judeh confirmed that defecting prime minister Riyad Hijab is still in the country.

"I am not in charge of Mr. Hijab's itinerary. He is in safe hands. He is in Jordan enjoying the safety and security of the country," Judeh told reporters, providing no other details.

Turning to the camp, he said Jordan has appealed for international funds to replace U.N. refugee agency tents with trailers in an effort to help refugees cope better with constant dust-laden winds and extreme weather at the desert camp.

Judeh conceded the conditions there were a challenge but said Jordan is trying "it's best to do everything and make sure they improve."

"It's a harsh environment, nobody can deny it. The wind, dust, scorpions and everything," Judeh said.

While at the camp, Baird also announced that Canada will donate $1.5 million to the World Food Program in Jordan and $2 million for medical supplies for doctors inside Syria.

Dressed in beige khakis and a grey shirt, Baird spoke with a number of refugees about their difficult experiences and gave 'high-fives' greetings to children playing on a slide.

He also toured a field hospital at the camp set up by the Moroccan government, speaking in French with the doctors.

A French military hospital is soon expected to be set up at the camp as well.

Baird is on a three-day tour of the region.

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Additional reporting from Zaatari, Jordan

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