The word refugee, more often than not, conjures automatically images of people sitting in makeshift camps, spread through thousands of tents, from Calais to Lesvos to Za’atari. The image of the camp dweller, while accurate for some, definitely does not comprise the entirety of what it means to be a refugee in 2018. Especially here in Jordan, where the majority of refugees – be them Syrian, Iraqi, Yemeni, Sudanese and etc. – live in cities, such as Irbid, Mafraq, and Amman.
The Collateral Repair Project (CRP), for example, is based in Hashemi Shamali, a low-income neighborhood which became the home of thousands of refugees in the past 15 years, given its low cost/high service access dynamic. “There is a similar closer ratio of Iraqis, Syrians, and Jordanians living here. People come to Hashemi because it is cheap and there is a concentration of NGOs that can help. That is something you are looking for when you are a refugee and is looking for a place to live, where can you easily obtain assistance”, tells me Muna*, Youth Center Coordinator at CRP. “The biggest issue faced by refugees is lack of money and they care also for how available services are. Hashemi has a hospital, NGOs, and schools. So, the children here rarely will have to take transportation to go to school”.
Refugees settled in cities (or urban refugees as the official reports refer to them) face particular challenges often overlooked on the mainstream narratives on the issue. Lack of income, as Muna pointed out, is the main one, since the majority of them is not allowed to work in Jordan. While more recently, due to advocacy and lobbying by international and local organizations, Syrians have now pathways to get permits, this is still virtually inaccessible for Iraqis, Yemenis, Sudanese and other minority refugees. “When it comes to Iraqis, they are not permitted to work. Syrians can get permits and that enables them to work. But for Iraqis, their livelihoods are limited to assistance from NGOs and money sent through relatives”, says Muna, herself a refugee from Baghdad, living in Jordan since 2014.
The relevant obstacles to work usually entail great hardship, especially since the relative cost of living in Jordan is high. Housing and money for rent are often cited as one of the biggest problems faced by this population. In a report published by CARE, 82% of the Syrian urban refugees in Jordan surveyed were found to live below the poverty line. The same report attested that minority refugees have an even lower average monthly income than Syrians – 176 JOD ($250) and 169 JOD ($238) respectively. According to moneyexpert.com and their statistics, debt is also a common trait amongst this population. This week, Daniela*, one of the participants of Hope Workshop, told me that she and her husband have taken a lot of loans, just to get by. “We just borrow money where we find it, and then pay back when we get some elsewhere”. A relevant number of them also told me they cannot afford to send their children to school.
“There are a lot of psychological issues that come from you not being able to work, not being able to sustain your family and sending your children to school. It affects a lot the self-esteem of the people. A lot of kids had to drop from school because the parents could not provide for them to go”, says Muna. CRP tries to address that through different programs, like organizing psychosocial support groups and educational activities targeting children and teens. One of the goals of Hope Workshop is also to work as a source of income for its participants.
The other aspect of the issue refers to those who then just work without a permit, in low paying, irregular jobs – which means, essentially, they are working illegally and if caught, will be arrested. Until recently, Syrians caught either for leaving a camp without permission or working irregularly were being sent to Azraq, a refugee camp known for its draconian rules. Some were even deported back to Syria. The criminalization of Syrians who have left camps without formal authorization to seek better conditions has been mitigated by the “amnesty” promoted by the government this past March, but the work restrictions remain. And, as noted by this report of Human Rights Watch, those who live in cities also have lost access to subsidized health care, what increases significantly the economic pressure on families.
As rates of resettlement in third countries continue to be low, the permanence of refugees in Jordan for a long time is more than likely – it is actually pretty much expected. This calls for the development of urgent and sustainable solutions for their inclusion in Jordan’s citizenry. The situation certainly needs to be understood in the wider context of the impacts on resources of the country, whose economic structural challenges go far beyond refugees. While the Jordan Compact seemed to be a step in a different approach, two years in, it still has not improved substantially the life of Syrian refugees in the country as it set itself to do – and it certainly has not attended to other refugees, a topic I will address in my next blog. Any policy drafted solutions need also to include and address vulnerable Jordanians, and I am happy to report most of the urban refugee directed programs I have come in contact with have started to include and target this group. This is, once again, ultimately, a political issue that should be tackled head-on by refugee advocates here and elsewhere.
*Names were changed for protection purposes
Posted By Teresa Perosa (Jordan)
Posted Jul 29th, 2018