Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, over 600,000 Syrian registered refugees have come to Jordan and live in camps and non-camp settings. As of 17 September 2015, Jordan hosted over 628,887 registered refugees from Syria. Additionally, almost 50,000 Iraqi refugees are also registered in Jordan, a consequence of the recent upsurge in conflicts in Iraq, as well as about 5,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, most of them Sudanese and Somalis. While displacement camps were not established to house the Iraqis, about 20 percent of Syrian refugees are accommodated in five camps, the largest of which – Za’atari Camp – had a population of around 80,000. As of September 2015, most Syrian refugees registered in Jordan came from the regions of Homs (16 percent), and mostly from Deraa (45 percent). In March 2013, refugees from Deraa were 68 percent of all registered refugees, a sign of the expansion of the conflict and displacements since then.
The Government of Jordan is not a signatory to the 1951 Geneva Convention related to the status of refugees or its 1967 Protocol. The country’s laws do not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government lacked a formal system of providing protection to refugees. However, a 1998 memorandum of understanding between the government and the UNHCR, partially amended in April 2014, contains the definition of a refugee, confirms adherence to the principle of non-refoulement and third country resettlement for refugees, and allows recognized refugees a maximum stay of one year, during which period UNHCR must find a durable solution. The time limit is renewable, and, generally, the government has not forced Syrian or Iraqi refugees to return to their country of origin. However, the international community has reported cases of refoulement. Refugees’ mobility is somehow constrained: departure from the camps may happen through a legal system of sponsorship by Jordanians, as well as through GoJ-organized return to Syria, even if some refugees simply moved out of the camps. Syrian and Iraqi registered refugees have no access to the formal labour market, which would require them to forego their protected refugee status. Many thus work or run businesses illegally to provide for their livelihoods. A limited number of Iraqi and Syrian refugees received approval for work permits from the Ministry of Labour; however, the government requires foreign residents, including refugees, to obtain residency permits from the Ministry of Interior before obtaining a work permit, effectively restricting issuance of work permits issued to refugees. Refugees are eligible to receive free primary health care in Jordan’s public healthcare facilities and Syrian refugee children have formal access to public education within refugee camps or outside, yet many factors (lack of available places, costs of fees, transportation, discrimination, etc) hamper many refugee children’s enrolment.
The impact of the crisis
The presence of so many refugees was a huge economic strain and placed a burden on Jordan’s resources, including water, education and health care. The large influx of refugees over almost five years has had a serious impact on what were already meagre national resources. The Syrian crisis has had a particularly negative impact on Jordanian structural vulnerabilities. The influx of refugees has increased intolerably the demand on school, sanitation, housing, food, energy and water. In particular, the arrival of Syrian refugees seems to have had a negative impact on Jordan’s housing sector. Rent prices have tripled or even quadrupled in border zones and other areas of high refugee density. As the majority of Syrians do not live in camps, this rise can be explained by the sharp increase in demand for housing and by refugees’ capacity to afford higher prices by sharing housing with others to bring down costs. It should be noted, however, that while rents continue to increase for both Jordanians and Syrians, the former tend to pay higher sums than Jordanian households. Furthermore, as of September, 229,000 of 440,000 urban refugees, who had been receiving some food aid from the World Food Programme, lost their benefits, which might further strain national charities and infrastructure. Those living in the camps continued to receive food vouchers. The Jordanian Government also laments that the 600,000 registered refugees are only a part of a bigger Syrian presence (Jordanians say 1.4 but not verifiable before census), of whom some were residing in Jordan before the war.
Refugees in host communities
A feeling of insecurity increased due to the potential for the conflict to spread into Jordan. This has also exacerbated the relationship between refugees and the host communities. Jordanians often perceive Syrians as competitors for jobs. This has sparked protests and tensions between refugees and host communities. The protracted nature of the Syrian crisis and its negative, real or perceived, impact on the living conditions of Jordanians has meant that Jordanians, who, at first, welcomed refugees, have become hostile. The belief that refugees are thriving on scarce local resources is widespread amongst an increasingly resentful host community.
While in principle maintaining an open-border policy to refugees from Syria, the authorities closed the border to Syrian refugees on a number of occasions and prevented the entry into Jordan of Palestinians and Iraqis fleeing the Syrian conflict. The UNHCR reported that, since 2014, the government also prevented some Syrians seeking refuge from entering the country, and forcibly returned Syrian refugees, including women, children, war-wounded, and disabled persons to Syria. All this seems to replicate a scenario already seen with Palestinian refugees from Syria. Prior to April 2012, Palestinian refugees from Syria could enter the country following the same procedures applied to any other Syrian refugees. However, after that date, Jordan adopted a no-entry policy that has prevented refugees from crossing into Jordan and that has subjected those in the Kingdom to the risk of refoulement to Syria. The increasing border restrictions may be explained by the fact that the influx of Syrians has strained Jordan’s already overburdened infrastructure and the Kingdom’s limited resources. Jordan’s participation in the United States-led military campaign against the Islamic State and Jabhat Al-Nusra in Syria and Iraq is another likely cause behind the tightening of borders. The government closely managed its borders with Syria and Iraq and required Iraqis to have visas before entering the country. As a matter of fact, the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) concur that almost no arrivals of Syrian refugees have been recorded over the past months – with the exception of a limited number of women, children, and civilians with urgent medical needs.
The response to the Syrian refugee crisis is led by Government of Jordan and coordinated by UNHCR. It also involves a myriad of donors, UN agencies, international and national NGOs, community-based organizations. First line Jordanian government agencies include the Jordanian Armed Forces, the Public Security Directorate, the Ministry of Interior, which comprises the Syrian Refugee Affairs Department and the Syrian Refugee Camp Directorate; the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation, which includes a Humanitarian Relief Coordination Unit. Other ministries (the Ministry of Public Works and Housing, Education, Health, Social Development, Labour, etc) are also involved. Besides UNHCR, other UN agencies perform specific protection, logistics and advocacy tasks, inside and outside camps: FAO, ILO, IOM, UN Women, UNDP, UNESCO, UNFPA, UN-Habitat, UNICEF, UNOPS, WFP, WHO, UNRWA, for instance. Among the many Jordanian NGOs are the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization, Jordanian Hashemite Fund for Human Development, Jordan River Foundation, Noor Al-Hussein Foundation, Caritas Jordan, Save the Children Jordan, the Islamic Relief.
Foreign and international NGOs include: Agence d’aide à la coopération technique et au développement, Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development-Legal Aid, CARE International USA, International Medical Corps, International Rescue Committee, International Relief and Development, Japan Emergency NGOs, Norwegian Refugee Council, Mercy Corps, Action Against Hunger, Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development, ActionAid, Adventist Development and Relief Agency, Association of Volunteers in International Service, CARE, Caritas Jordan, Global Communities, Center for Victims of Torture, Danish Refugee Council, Finn Church Aid, Fundación Promoción Social de la Cultura, Croix-Rouge française, Handicap International, International Catholic Migration Commission, International Medical Corps, Internews, INTERSOS, Islamic Relief, International Rescue Committee, International Relief and Development, Japan Emergency NGOs, Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization, Jordan Health Aid Society, KnK Japan, Lutheran World Federation, Muslim Aid, Madrasati Initiative, Médecins du Monde, Medair, Mercy Corps, El Movimiento por la Paz, Nippon International Cooperation for Community Development, Norwegian Refugee Council, Operation Mercy, Oxfam, Première Urgence – Aide Médicale Internationale, Questscope, Relief International, Royal Health Awareness Society, Save the Children Jordan, Save the Children International, Syria Relief and Development, Al Taghyeer, Terre des Hommes Lausanne, Terre des Hommes Italy, Triangle GH, Un Ponte Per, War Child UK, World Vision International
UNHCR’s funding appeal for Jordan amounts to $1,191,392,175 for 2015. As of September 2015, only 39% of its funding requirements are covered ($466,434,221).