Stephen Harper ends Mideast tour with refugee camp visit

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announces more funding initiatives to assist Syrian refugees and to aid in the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons.

PM announces more money to assist Syrian refugees and help destroy Syria's chemical weapons

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced more funding initiatives Friday to assist Syrian refugees and to aid in the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons.

Harper, on the final day of his visit to Israel and Jordan, made the announcement during a tour of the Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan, some 12 kilometres from the Syrian border.

Harper, who was in Amman Thursday to meet with King Abdullah at his opulent presidential palace, said an additional $15 million would be spent to support the international effort to destroy the weapons.

The bulk of the money, $10 million, will go to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is overseeing the program.

That's on top of the $2 million Canada gave the OPCW in early 2013 to help the organization investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The remaining $5 million announced Friday will assist the U.S. Department of Defence in the destruction of chemicals aboard an American ship.

"The use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians was an atrocity that cannot be allowed to happen again," said Harper.

Harper also announced additional support for 6.5 million internally displaced people in Syria and the 2.3 million refugees who have fled the civil war.

He said $150 million would be disbursed this year for humanitarian needs in Syria and to help Syrians who have taken refuge in Jordan and other countries.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and wife Laureen Harper visited Za'atari Refugee Camp in Jordan, where he announced more funding initiatives to assist Syrian refugees (The Canadian Press)

The third Canadian-funded project is designed to help Syrian refugee children rediscover what many kids around the world take for granted — the joy of play.

Funding will be provided to enable more than 1,500 teachers and coaches to use a play-based learning method in partnership with an organization called Right To Play.

"Canada's support will help ensure that children living in Jordanian communities hosting Syrian refugees have the opportunity to learn, play and succeed despite difficult circumstances," said Harper.

$630M total in aid

The prime minister added that Canada will do its best to ensure Syrian children "do not become a lost generation."

All told, Canada has so far committed more than $630 million in humanitarian, development and security assistance in response to the Syrian crisis.

The prime minister and his wife, Laureen, were welcomed at the camp by a UN official who thanked Canada for its strong support of Jordan.

The official filled them in on the size of the camp and the number of Syrian refugees there, now estimated to number about 125,000.

The camp has grown to more than eight square kilometres since it was created in July 2012.

Time Magazine has described it as the size of nearly 1,000 American football fields.

Harper said the camp represents just the tip of the iceberg in regards to the Syrian crisis.

"This is only one small piece of the refugee crisis." he said.

"We sometimes forget these are all individual lives ... We are touched by this."

Harpers visit ancient city

After touring the camp, Harper and his wife, Laureen, visited Petra, a historical and archeological city famous for its rock-cut architecture and water system.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and wife Laureen visit the historical and archaeological city of Petra while in Jordan on Jan. 24, 2014. It is the last day of the prime minister's first Middle East tour. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

UNESCO says Petra, between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea, has been inhabited since prehistoric times. It is half-built, half-carved into rock, and is surrounded by mountains riddled with passages and gorges.

The Harpers stopped and posed for photos on edge of the spectacular valley.

"We need a geologist," Laureen said with a laugh.

One of the prominent features carved into the rock called Al Khazneh, or the Facade of the Treasury, was used to depict the front of a temple housing the Holy Grail in the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Harper and his entourage hiked through the stunning crevasse to take in the Facade of the Treasury and the prime minister and his wife posed for more photos.


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