Syrians in Jordan: Cause for tension?

AROBy Ana Rovzar, International Energy Graduate of Sciences Po Paris

Syrian refugee communities are having complicated impacts on the Jordanian local economies.

IMG_2116As the civil war in Syria sets in its 30th consecutive month of internal armed struggle, Syrians continue to flee their home country in large numbers. Jordan, one of the neighboring countries committed to hosting Syrian refugees, currently hosts more than 500 thousand. Given the recent intensity of global political developments and tension in Syria, the Government is expecting that total to reach as many as 1,2 million by the end of the year . With a population of 6 million, this would roughly translate into 1 in every 6 Jordanians being a Syrian. This is the cause of an important demographic shift which is in turn having a socio-economic impact; notably on unemployment and housing prices as well as other social dimensions that are beginning to worry local Jordanians.

The arrival of Syrians in Jordanian communities seems to be squeezing the already sensitive job market. Syrian refugee households that relocate to Jordan have few reliable income sources and many poor families rely on a combination of humanitarian aid (such as food vouchers), personal savings and gifts. In some cases however part of the food aid is re-sold to generate cash for other basic household expenditures, making it a primary income source . Additionally, because of their lack of cash, Syrians in Jordan are willing to work in informal low-skilled employment sectors for longer hours and lower pay . There are around 160,000 Syrians working illegally in these jobs, such as bakeries, cafés and shops. These employers tend to hire Syrians over Jordanians not only because they are cheaper but because they have good commercial skills and an appealing Arabic accent. With unemployment currently sitting at 12.6% , and the unofficial rate estimated closer to 30% , Jordanians already experience a hard time finding jobs. The largest affected groups are the 15 to 24 year olds . The impact of Syrians employment is thus adding worry to the Jordanian workforce.

Another change Jordanians have noticed in the last year is a spike in rents, which has occurred all over Jordan in an already tight housing market. One reason is the sharp increase in housing demand because of the refugees. Another reason is that Syrian families often pool their resources and live together in houses, sometimes two to three families per flat, allowing them to pay higher rents. Although many refugees have little savings, and are indebted to landowners, the cash generated through the sale of vouchers allows most of them to keep paying rent. This however is compounding problems for Jordanians as rents continue to rise.

Pressures on other sectors are also prevalent; health, education, water, sanitation, electricity supplies and fuel prices have all been affected. Schools are overpopulated and now have two sessions per day to accommodate for newly arrived Syrian pupils. Prices of basic goods have been on the rise, and villages at the northern border of Jordan are shutting down because of the slump in trade with Syria.
Welcoming refugees is not new for Jordan. It has indeed been dubbed the ‘Switzerland’ of the Middle East and previous refugees, such as the Iraqis and Palestinians have integrated well and positively. What is new, however, is the worry whether they can take all the strain of the Syrian population which isn’t as skilled as the Iraqis, for example. Tensions have manifested themselves between Syrians & Jordanians notably in northern towns near the border. Although Sufian Abukaraki, a Jordanian teacher, mentions that both parties have always been on good terms, and the stress is mostly directed to the government, ““I am not against the Syrians being here. Their situation is very complicated, who am I to judge it? It’s the government that must help us, Jordanians, out” last November, a hike in cooking & fuel oil prices caused protests in Amman and other cities. Since a further hike in basic commodities prices is likely to take place in the coming months, this may result in further tensions & protests .

Jordan has always been a stable haven in the often-turbulent region. Its people are friendly, optimistic, and proud of their country and what it’s doing to help their neighbors and King Abdullah is a popular monarch. At the same time, many Syrian refugees dream of returning to their lives and communities. It is clear, however, that the situation in Syria is not likely to become livable soon. Ongoing tensions, and huge uncertainty over international intervention are likely to persist and increase in complexity. It is crucial for Jordan and its population to do some long-term thinking on how this situation may best absorb these impacts. In all likelihood, more tough times are ahead.

[1] European Commission Press Release. Retrieved from: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-13-497_en.htm
Accessed: 8 September 2013
[1] International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. (2012). Syrian Refugees Living in the Community in Jordan: Assessment Report. Retrieved from: http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/download.php?id=1168. Accessed: September 9, 2013.
[1] International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. (2012). Syrian Refugees Living in the Community in Jordan: Assessment Report. Retrieved from: http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/download.php?id=1168. Accessed: September 9, 2013.
[1] The Jordan Times. Retrieved from: http://jordantimes.com/around-160000-syrians-work-illegally-in-jordan
Accessed 10 September 2013
[1]CIA World Factbook Jordan. Retrieved from: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/jo.html
Accessed : 9 September 2013.
[1] Index Mundi Jordan Economy. Retrieved from: http://www.indexmundi.com/jordan/economy_profile.html
Accessed : 9 September 2013.
[1] Index Mundi Jordan Economy. Retrieved from: http://www.indexmundi.com/jordan/economy_profile.html
Accessed : 9 September 2013.

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SONY DSCTo date, UNHCR estimates there are 2,007,598 registered Syrian refugees beyond Syrians borders – that’s about the population of Houston, Texas. Other neighboring countries committed to hosting Syrian refugees in their national territories include Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq & Egypt, Jordan.

Jordan hosts Syrians in its communities and in refugee camps, of which Za’atari camp is the largest in the region with 122,017 refugees . The other 397,658 Syrian refugees have been relocated to Jordanian cities or villages, also called local host communities. Syrian refugees relocating to Jordan are usually large families with little means, that left their lives behind to start over. Most Syrians hope to be able to return to their country one day. In the meantime, they are dispersed all over Jordan, usually in villages near the Syrian border or in Amman, the capital. The settlement of large populations in such a short space of time inevitably impact these communities, cities, and even Jordan at large.

Save vast amounts of mineral resources, Jordan is a country burdened with severe water shortages and poor in other natural resources, especially when compared to its Middle Eastern neighbors. The government relies heavily on foreign aid, in the form of USAID or funding from the Gulf countries for development programs and government spending. Because the high influx of refugees on Jordanian land is putting strain on its already meager resources, Jordan is receiving foreign support in the form of humanitarian aid from countries and institutions such as European Union, the United States, Germany and Norway, to help alleviate strain on its economy from hosting so many refugees on its land .

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