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108,000 work permits issued for Syrian refugees since onset of crisis

By Ana V. Ibáñez Prieto - Aug 13,2018 - Last updated at Aug 13,2018

In February 2017, work permits for Syrians residing in camps within Jordan began to be issued in coordination with the Directorate of Syrian Refugee Affairs, UNHCR and the ILO (File photo)

AMMAN — The Ministry of Labour has issued over 108,000 permits for Syrian refugees since the beginning of the crisis, Syrian Refugees Department Officer Ammar Kalbani said on Monday, highlighting the government’s efforts to further regulate the status of Syrian workers after pledging to create 200,000 jobs for refugees at the Supporting Syria and the Region conference held in London in February 2016. 

During the conference, which was held by the UN in cooperation with the governments of the UK, Germany, Kuwait and Norway, the Kingdom received pledges to support the National Response Plan to the Syrian refugee crisis, which resulted on the signing of the 2016 EU relaxed rules of origin for Jordanian exports to Europe. 

“Accordingly, the Ministry of Labour decided to enact a series of measures that would later contribute to the implementation of its undertakings during the conference,” Kalbani said, noting that the measures included the amendment of a number of regulations and instructions related to the issuance of work permits for Syrians. 

Kalbani's remarks came during a roundtable discussion held by Tamkeen Fields for Aid on the situation of Syrian refugees in the Jordanian labour market, which saw the attendance of representatives of the Ministry of Labour, the Social Security Corporation, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), UNHCR and several labour unions.
“In February 2017, work permits for Syrians residing in camps within Jordan began to be issued in coordination with the Directorate of Syrian Refugee Affairs, UNHCR and the ILO, and operation and coordination offices were set up inside the camps of Zaatari and Azraq for this purpose,” Kalbani pointed out, in addition, the Ministry of Labour started to issue temporary work permits valid for a period of less than six months in accordance with the “Cash for Work” Syrian employment programme.

“Starting from June 2017, a new list of open professions for Syrians was published to allow Syrians to work in the manufacturing sector,” Kalbani continued, stressing that “this provided them with more employment opportunities in the industrial sector while increasing the number of factories benefitting from the 2016 EU relaxed rules of origin”.

Similarly, on November 2017, the Ministry of Labour introduced a new package of exceptions targeted at Syrian refugees, which included the issuance of flexible work permits for specific sectors, the permission to move from one sector to another without a clearance form in cases in which the permit was expired and the ability to move to another employer without a release form. 

“While these decisions enabled Syrians to join the labour market, they were issued with such a rapid speed that it caused confusion among employers and workers at the labour directorates,” Tamkeen Director Linda Al Kalash commented, noting that “this whirlwind of successive decisions resulted in neither the worker, nor the employer or even the employee at the directorate to understand the process of issuing permits.” 

Concerning the number of permits issued since the beginning of the crisis, the expert noted that “the available figures do not really reflect the number of Syrians currently employed in the labour market”, explaining that “the multiple entry visa issued for Syrian refugees with first degree relatives in Jordan requires them to have a work permit, which drives Syrians wishing to travel out of Jordan to issue flexible working permits while not being employed”.

According to data obtained by Tamkeen, the number of active work permits for Syrians in Jordan stood at 40,000 at the end of March this year, indicating that “the number of work permits issued by the ministry does not reflect the nature of the work that Syrians are performing in our labour market, nor the actual number of refugees actively working in Jordan”. 

Commenting on the working conditions experienced by Syrian refugees, Kalash highlighted that “many workers are deprived of their wages after finishing their work in a certain project or they are only given a part of the salary that was previously agreed upon”.

“Although employers are required to include all of their employees under the social security umbrella, many workers are not included, with the same thing being applied to health insurance,” she added, stressing that “most Syrian employees are not granted their annual leave nor their sick leaves and workers have even reported that deductions are made from their salaries in the event they are absent from work due to illness or similar reasons”.

“Sometimes, employees are forced to sign contracts that completely contradict what was previously agreed upon and they are not provided with a copy of the document,” the expert pointed out, warning that “in addition to this, workers are also exposed to many other violations including the denial of overtime wages, verbal abuse and threats”. 

Organised in cooperation with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the remainder of the discussion revolved around the Jordanian state's obligations towards the refugee crisis after the donor conference held in 2016, the impact of the influx of Syrian refugees on the Jordanian labour market, and the strategies to “turn the challenge into an opportunity”, according to organisers. 

A new study on the situation of Syrian workers within the Jordanian labour market will soon be issued by Tamkeen, according to Kalash. 

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