What Does Jordan need to do with its Syrian refugees
As the international community struggles with the Syrian refugee crisis, many are looking at Jordan’s courageous position in absorbing as many as a million and a half Syrians as guests of the Kingdom.
While this hospitality has been duly recognized and rewarded, the longevity of the Syrian conflict is forcing all players to rethink the policy towards the Syrian refugees. What was thought to be a short term crisis which would end with the happy return back to Syria is turning to be a long term conflict that requires more than immediate housing, food and medical aid.
Alexandra Francis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has produced an important study on the issue and has suggested a number of takeaways that Jordan would do well by adhering to. She recommends integration of development and humanitarian aid, maintain protection space for refugees, formalize access to livelihoods and empower local governance actions as they integrate capacity building programs that help deliver services to the Jordanian population as well as to Syrian refugees.
The challenges facing Jordan are made even more acute as the slow but steady political reform process has resulted in a relatively progressive election law that has been welcomed by Jordanian democrats and civil society.
Jordan is not a signatory to the 1951Refugee Treaty and therefore doesn’t have the obligations of turning the temporary guests into asylum seekers. But Jordan is a signatory to the convention against torture which forbids the Kingdom from sending individuals to a country that might torture them.
Court records connected to a recent access to information case raised by Radio al Balad have shown that the issue of refugees is one of the state secrets designated by the Ministry of Interior and thus it is impossible to know exactly how many Syrians are in Jordan and how many have been sent back in contravention of the Torture Convention and in violation of the agreement Jordan has signed with the UN agency responsible for refugees UNHCR.
As the stay of the Syrians in Jordan continues without a solution in sight, there is no running away from the need for a much wider discussion about the mid to long term solutions.
The issue of opening up the job market to Syrians has taken up a lot of the public discussion in a country with double digit unemployment. Many observers have noted that Syrians are very good at creating jobs rather than replacing Jordanians and that the cheap labor that Syrian refugees fills up takes away jobs of Egyptian laborers rather Jordanians.
An international conference by Chatham House and Jordan’s Identity Center on the long term status of Syrians revealed a desire by local government officials for easing the strict labour laws that forbid work for Syrian guests. Mayors from northern Jordanian towns and cities were complaining that many Syrian businesspeople are willing to provide jobs for Syrians and Jordanians if the country easies its policies regarding Syrian employement. At present it is difficult for a Syrian to get a work permit although there are many working illegally at below minimum wages.
The difficulty facing the government of Jordan stems in part due to the ignorance of the public which produes hate speech and stereotyping of Syrians as negatively affecting Jordanian’s abilities to work. A concerted effort to deal with this hate speech is needed and a number of donors have stepped up and identified this area as needing to be addressed before words turn into actions that could produce unnecessary tensions for the country.
Finding the right balance between opening up the job market for Syrians while also making sure that Jordanians who want to work at different levels are given an opportunity is possible. But this requires a wise leadership that refuses to keep its head in the sand and is fully aware of the destructive policy of keeping Syrians closed in and jobless.
Jordanian and the international community understand that the most important long term solution to the Syrian refugee crisis is a resolution of the civil war raging across Jordan’s northern borders. But until such time that a solution is found that brings back stability and economic viability, Jordan working with its friends from around the world must find the mid to long term solutions for the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who for the time being have made Jordan their home.