Posted by Joshua on Sunday, August 10th, 2014
10 Things to Know About Refugees in Jordan
by Justin Schon, a PhD student in the Department of Political Science at Indiana University Bloomington. His research focuses on insurgency and population displacement during conflict. He can be followed on twitter @goliathSchon
This post is the first of two posts I will be writing for this blog. It is based on the observations I have made and conversations I have had during my fieldwork in Jordan. This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but they are all points that are important to know about the refugee situation in Jordan.
1) Syrians are not the only refugees in Jordan
Although Syrians have stolen much of the attention in recent years, Jordan is actually home to many groups of refugees. The largest of these groups is Palestinian refugees. However, Jordan also hosts large and growing numbers of Iraqi refugees. Then there are many other smaller groups of refugees, such as Sudanese and Somali refugees, as is discussed here. All of these groups face serious challenges in Jordan.
At the same time, the types of challenges these groups face can be very different. Syrians are currently the high profile group, so there are a lot more aid organizations focusing their efforts on them. At the same time, they may also be more likely to be the victims of backlash against refugees than other refugee groups because of that high profile. On the other hand, Sudanese and Somali refugees are a small and often ignored group. These groups even have difficulty acquiring refugee status.
Thus, when thinking about responses to refugee influxes in Jordan, it is a mistake to lump all refugees in Jordan into one category. Their needs are different, and they can require very different responses.
2) Most Syrians are not living in the refugee camps
Currently, more than 80% of Syrian refugees in Jordan do not live in a refugee camp. Zaatari may capture a lot of the public interest and media headlines, but the refugee camps only contain a small portion of the total Syrian refugee population in Jordan.
This means that the focus of the response to Syrian refugees needs to be on urban refugees. The Jordanian government has stressed, justifiably, that aid programs should target geographic areas, rather than refugees specifically, so that Jordanians can benefit from these programs as well. UNHCR and the broader INGO and NGO community generally agree with this goal, so it should not be seen as controversial.
3) Refugees strongly support the Free Syrian Army
Many refugees in Jordan have friends or family that fought with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and the FSA is instrumental in helping many people leave Syria. So, it should come as no surprise that many of the refugees in Jordan support the Free Syrian Army. There is speculation about how much support IS/ISIL/ISIS has among Syrian refugees in Jordan, but my own work has made me skeptical of this claim. Some Syrian refugees are even convinced that the Assad government and ISIS are in an alliance, making it even more unlikely that they would be willing to support ISIS.
4) It is unlikely that there would be a large voluntary repatriation of Syrian refugees if Assad were allowed to take control of southern Syria.
One of the arguments for allowing Assad to win the war is that it would at least be a way to bring stability to Syria and provide a way for Syrian refugees to return to Syria. There is some logic in this, but the conversations I have had with refugees in Jordan do not support the argument.
For many refugees in Jordan, they were specifically fleeing from government troops and pro-government militias. Even if Assad were to create stability in Syria, many Syrians would be unlikely to return voluntarily because the source of their fear would remain in power.
The word voluntary is important because the Jordanian government is showing a desire to encourage Syrian refugees to return to Syria, even at the cost of suffering protests from UNHCR and numerous NGOs. If Syria becomes stable, then Jordan could use the norm of safe return, rather than non-refoulement, as its rationale for repatriating Syrian refugees. In short, safe return is the idea that refugee return is facilitated by host governments when the origin country becomes safe. It does not have to be a voluntary return. Non-refoulement means that refugees should not return to their origin countries unless the decision has been made voluntarily and without coercion. This legal distinction between safe return and non-refoulement is important to consider, and could become relevant in the case of Syrian refugees.
5) Refugees often pay close attention to what is happening back in Syria.
Every refugee that I have spoken with has told me that they regularly call friends and family that are still in Syria. They even frequently watch television and surf the internet. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are also used by many people. So, the Syrian refugee community in Jordan is very engaged in following and discussing the events taking place inside Syria.
6) Syrians in Jordan know more about the conflict in some ways than Syrians in Syria.
Consuming so much information does often mean that Syrian refugees are consuming more information than they were when they were back in Syria. In addition, many people that primarily watched movies and television series before the war switched to watching the news during the war. Meanwhile, many television channels and internet websites have gotten blocked by the Syrian government. Television channels can change their broadcast frequency, but this is still an impediment for those attempting to get their news from watching television.
This may seem counter-intuitive, but it is actually consistent with some recent work published by Oxford’s Refugee Studies Centre. Refugees often consume more information than other civilians.
7) Syrian refugees are not welcome in Jordan long-term.
Syrians currently make up about 10% of the population inside Jordan. This influx has strained Jordan’s economic resources, security services, and environmental resources. Thus, Jordan has made it very clear that aid organizations should avoid livelihoods programs or any measures that would encourage Syrians to stay long-term. For example, Syrians cannot obtain work permits, and Syrians caught working without a permit risk serious harassment or punishment from the Jordanian government. There is even a possibility of deportation back to Syria in some of these cases.
While it would be preferable for Jordan to welcome Syrians for as long as they should choose to stay, the government’s response must be taken in context. It is facing security challenges in both Iraq and Syria, high unemployment domestically, water shortages, and rising discontent among its domestic population with the Syrians. One could even argue that it is amazing that Jordan has not struggled even more with the strain of hosting so many refugees.
8) There is disagreement about whether Syrians that want to return to Syria should be encouraged to do so.
This is related to the previous point. UNHCR considers Syria unsafe for refugee repatriation, even if it is voluntary. However, the Jordanian government encourages refugees to return to Syria if they are willing. Therefore, UNHCR has chosen to monitor these returns to ensure that they are least voluntary. As time passes, this dynamic is important to watch.
9) The bail-out system is flawed.
One quirk of the Jordanian system of hosting refugees is that Syrians can leave the refugee camps if a Jordanian pays 300 JD and agrees to take responsibility for the refugee. This system was meant to be a way to allow Syrians to leave the refugee camps while providing a way for Jordan to continue monitoring the movements of Syrian refugees.
Officially, the Jordanian is supposed to be of a certain age, be married, have no criminal background, and satisfy several other characteristics. Unofficially, additional money can be paid to get around these requirements. Fake papers are used in some circumstances. These issues have meant that the bail-out system, which was originally meant to be a compromise with good intentions, has now become a system that encourages bribery and pushes many refugees under the radar once they leave the refugee camps.
10) Border closures have many negative effects upon civilians.
Jordan’s decision to close border crossings from Syria has produced many additional hardships for displaced Syrians. Syrians unable to cross at the border crossings near Deraa often have to find an illegal border crossing. Much of the crossing happens in the eastern part of Jordan, where there is little but desert. Making this trip takes much more time, costs a lot of money, and exposes fleeing Syrians to the risk of more checkpoints. This is not to mention the large displaced persons camps that have emerged along the border due to being forced to wait for permission to cross the border.
In my second post, I will discuss these challenges in greater detail. I will be focusing on this point because border closures do involve tremendous costs for displaced Syrians. These costs merit additional discussion.
* This work was supported by a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) scholarship and a grant from the Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis.
my website: http://justinschon.yolasite.com/