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Syrian refugees and host community in Jordan: Perceptions, experiences and way forward

Aug 09,2022 - Last updated at Aug 09,2022

By Palash Kamruzzaman, Hanaa Albanna, Najah Al Shanableh and  Mohammad Alhadab

Jordan has a rich heritage of hosting refugees from Palestine, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia among others. However, the largest number of refugees are from Syria estimated a staggering number of 1.4 million, although there are just over 655,500 refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). While Jordan appears in some global and regional statistics in terms of number of refugees it is hosting, it is nonetheless not an exaggeration to say that Jordan’s role is rather under-appreciated in within the dominant humanitarian narratives. We, the authors, have been involved in research that focuses on the perceptions of host communities, as well as the Syrian refugees, towards their integration in Al Mafraq which hosts the second largest number of Syrian refugees, more specifically 25.2 per cent of Syrian refugees, around 169,836 in total, after Amman that hosts 29.7 per cent of Syrian refugees, totaling around 200,702. We observed in our research that some tensions are bubbling up within the Jordan community since the arrival of Syrian refugees. 

We observed in our study a mixed perceptions comprised of positive and negative opinions from both the host communities and the refugees. There is overwhelming sympathy towards the refugees due to religious, linguistic and cultural similarities. However, that the research shows there is growing frustration amongst some sections of society. This was largely due to the impact on economic burden in hosting a very large number of refugees, notably the loss of employment opportunities for the locals plays a massive role in this regard. Some degree of anger and agitations were also expressed by the host communities as it was repeatedly highlighted that Jordan has severe resource limitations. Many agreed that the world should do more to help. The responsibility should not be solely placed on Jordanians for hosting Syrian refugees. In addition, the humanitarian workers highlighted that the frustration level is very high since there was a huge reduction in the support from the international community for both Syrian refugees and to the host community. They also clearly identified that aid programme would help dealing with the problem over the short term as the solution to the crisis demand a strong political will from all major stakeholders.

The hospitality of Jordanians and their goodwill should not be overstretched in dealing with the refugee crisis and could lead to more problems. As it can develop into a long-term problem and potentially reduce the willingness of Jordanians to host refugees at all. The current social tensions are bubbling, but still at a manageable level. Adding more pressure and long-term problems could lead to an outburst of social tensions. This could be highly damaging and difficult to manage.

We found that the host communities in Jordan are aware of the huge negative impact of the Syrian crisis and the need to support to Jordan to managing the refugees to avoid any future conflicts between refugees and the host community. Jordan is burdened by extreme scarcity of water, and the challenges related to this, which have been aggravated by the influx of refugees since the year 2011. Economic struggles are another issue Jordan continues to be held back by. With an average of 2.2 rates in GDP growth annually, the huge influx of refugees puts additional strain on the economy. 

A report prepared by UNHCR and the World Bank Group (WBG) highlighted the limitations of current policies and approaches designed to manage refugee situations in Jordan over the medium to long term. Evidence from the ground suggested that cash assistance programmes and food stamps were very effective in reducing poverty among Syrian refugees, but our respondents question whether humanitarian response alone is sufficient to meet current needs of Syrian refugees in Jordan? What about supporting the host community and mitigating the negative effects that is caused by the Syrian crisis? 

 

While Jordan is not yet inundated with anti-refugee rhetoric, the change in perceptions of the host community (and the refugees) could soon become deeply damaging, notably if the current issues are not given immediate attention in the future policies of the government, NGOs, and international community towards the refugees. Major policy shift in the outlook of dealing with the refugees is clearly needed for the long-term solutions to minimise brewing tensions turning into a social discord within the fabric of Jordanian society. While the ordinary Jordanians have been extremely supportive towards the refugees, the responsibilities now largely on the political will of the international community and national governments.

 

Palash Kamruzzaman, South Wales Business School. Hanaa Albanna, Global One 2015. Najah Al Shanableh, Al Al Bayt University. Mohammad Alhadab, Al Al Bayt University

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