Syrians in Jordan toward new asylum journey due to work restrictions
Enab Baladi – Muhammed Fansa
Jordanian labor laws specify narrow fields of work for Syrians, forcing some of them to resort to another country in search of better living conditions despite Jordan being the largest country hosting Syrians in terms of the number of work permits granted to them.
The Jordanian Ministry of Labor issued about 338,000 work permits in specific professions to Syrian refugees between 2016 and 2022, according to the state-run al-Mamlaka TV.
Since July 2021, Syrian refugees have begun to obtain work permits in all sectors open to non-Jordanians, which included services, sales, crafts, agriculture, forestry, fishing, work in factories, operating machines, and basic industries after it was limited only to the agricultural and construction sectors.
Work permits granted to Syrians in Jordan are for specific professions and a temporary, renewable period, while most professions are limited to Jordanian labor, such as administrative work and selling in shops of all kinds, in addition to most professions in the private sector.
In early April, the Jordanian government added several professions to the list in which non-Jordanians are prohibited from working as part of the draft law regulating the investment environment.
The government’s decision sparked controversy on social media between those who see it as a protection for the Jordanian labor market and those who describe the decision as “unfair and racist.”
Jordan hosts about 670,000 Syrian refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), while Jordanian government figures indicate that there are more than 1.3 million Syrian refugees.
Between who left and who waits
Malik al-Khaled sought refuge in Jordan five years ago, but left in April on a new and dangerous journey of asylum through smuggling routes to Europe towards Germany in search of better living conditions, according to what he told Enab Baladi.
Al-Khaled, 29, single, talked about the lack of ambition and the blurry future vision of his life in light of the equality of his expenses with his financial income while he was in Jordan, which prompted him to search for a better future in Europe.
The future that al-Khaled drew in his imagination during his stay in Europe, according to what he heard from the experiences of the Syrians there, includes obtaining sufficient financial income that would enable him to buy a house and a car and get rid of the racist treatment, some of which he used to see in Jordan.
Al-Khaled plans to obtain regular residency and work permits and then, according to his long-term planning, acquire the nationality of the country and its passport, which will allow him the freedom to travel to several countries.
Al-Khaled worked in Jordan in the profession of men’s shaving, which he learned in Syria, which brought him a better income than his Syrian peers working in factories or employees, but he used to work in an illegal way, given that his profession is among the professions prohibited by the government.
The professions prohibited to non-Jordanians in the government’s decision included opening a barbershop, a furniture upholstery workshop, a sweets-making workshop, the production of pastries or ice cream, blacksmithing, carpentry, aluminum, turning and metal forming, an embroidery workshop and sewing traditional costumes.
Adding a ban on work in goldsmithing, bottling water, producing roasted nuts, roasting and grinding coffee, making ceramic and pottery products, and washing and ironing clothes.
Despite al-Khaled’s work for a long time in an illegal manner, as is the case with many Syrian professionals, the inspection campaigns of the Jordanian Ministry of Labor were not heavy on the shops, and in the case of al-Khaled, he was living in a rural area, where the campaigns are less than the city center.
Those found working in a profession that is not available to Syrian refugees as part of the inspection campaigns are subject to a financial fine of up to 500 Jordanian dinars (about $700).
Bashar, 31, was not as lucky as al-Khaled, as he was exposed to a financial violation while working in a pharmacy during an inspection campaign by the Ministry of Labor in the country, he told Enab Baladi.
Bashar, who asked not to reveal his full name, studied and graduated from the Faculty of Pharmacy in Jordan after he came to the country before 2011. However, after completing his master’s studies, he was unable to find a regular job in Jordan within his specialization, and he is also prohibited from opening a pharmacy under his name.
Bashar resorted to working for a Jordanian pharmacist illegally to secure his income, but since his graduation and knowing the work situation in Jordan, he tried to seek refuge in the US through a scholarship, but the decision of the former US President, Donald Trump, banning citizens of several countries, including Syria, from entering the US, stood as an obstacle to his immigration.
Although he was born in Jordan to Syrian parents, Bashar said that if he had the right to obtain Jordanian nationality and work in Jordan without restrictions, he would never have thought of leaving.
The Jordanian Prime Minister, Bishr al-Khasawneh, stated in August 2021, during an interview with the Independent Turkey website, about whether Jordan would grant citizenship to Syrian refugees, saying, “God forbid that this happens.”
Decision not in anyone’s interest
Jordanian activist Salma al-Nims said that adding new professions to the list banning work for non-Jordanians will not be a solution to the unemployment problem at a time when foreign residents have contributed to raising the quality, performance, and professionalism of Jordanians in these professions.
In turn, the Jordanian Tamkeen Association for Legal Aid and Human Rights called on the Jordanian government to reconsider the list of craft professions non-Jordanians are not allowed to practice.
The human rights association confirmed that the government’s decision would cause more restrictions on investors and the transfer of more workers to work in violation, depriving them of social protection.
The association’s statement, issued on April 17, stated that this decision means an increase in the rates of insurance evasion and work in the informal sector, where non-Jordanian workers, including Syrian refugees, enjoy less protection and less access to social protection and are among the most vulnerable groups in the labor market.
Figures issued by the annual report of the Social Security Corporation in 2021 indicate that the percentage of non-Jordanian insured persons amounted to 11.9%.
According to the Jordanian government, the decision aims to combat unemployment, which reached 23.9% during the fourth quarter of 2022.
According to the Tamkeen Association’s analysis, it appears that the laws pertaining to the work of non-Jordanians, which have been in force for more than 20 years, “did not succeed on the ground in reducing unemployment rates, which are increasing year after year.”
The association explained that the lack of a “decent” work environment in many labor sectors in Jordan, whether in terms of wages or the provision of other benefits such as social security, health insurance, and other conditions, makes Jordanian job seekers not accept to work in it.
There are many international agencies working to create job opportunities for Syrian refugees and the most vulnerable groups of Jordanians through annual programs on the one hand and to provide financial support to the Jordanian government on the other hand.
Recently, the World Bank agreed to extend the “Economic Opportunities for Jordanians and Syrian Refugees” program until January 31, 2024, based on a Jordanian request.
In April, the Jordanian government proposed increasing the program’s expenditures to $625 million, with an extension for a year, as the Bank has disbursed about $386 million for the program since its launch.
The program supports refugees in terms of their access to the Jordanian labor market and enables them to rely on themselves and contribute to the Jordanian economy and support the reform agenda of the Jordanian government to develop the economy through the investment climate and sectoral reforms.
The poverty rate among Syrian refugees in Jordan reached 66%, according to the report of the UNHCR issued in March.
In 2016, the Jordanian government, in partnership with the international community, pledged to improve the living conditions of Syrian refugees and Jordanian host communities through the so-called “Jordan Charter,” which constituted a commitment by the international community to support Jordan in hosting refugees and to support Jordanian citizens and the Jordanian economy.
The minimum wage for migrant workers from outside Jordan, including Syrian refugees, was 190 Jordanian dinars in 2016, but the Jordanian government raised it to 230 Jordanian dinars ($323) at the beginning of 2021, while the minimum wage for Jordanians is 260 dinars ($366).
Globally, 38% of refugees live in countries that do not restrict access to formal employment opportunities, including self-employment.
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