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Jordan: Challenges with providing legal jobs for Syrian refugees

Syrian refugees in Jordan find little benefit in working legally, 30 December 2017

Jordan vowed to create 200,000 jobs for Syrians at an international donors conference in London in February and a raft of measures were passed to make that happen: Work permits were made available for free, some $700 million was pledged in international grants, and EU rule-of-origin laws were loosened for manufacturers employing at least 15 percent Syrian labor … But the roll-out of work permits hasn't met expectations. Around 35,000 of a projected 50,000 permits were issued this year … The Jordanian government, assumed that Syrians would snap up permits if they were easily available, but that wasn't the case… [The case of Ashraf, a Syrian refugee worker], illustrates the complexity of the puzzle. He can't apply for a work permit because sales - like other professions, including teaching and driving - is reserved only for Jordanian citizens. Compared to the low-paid work that's most accessible for refugees the job is a good fit for Ashraf, but it's unlikely to become legal for Syrians: With unemployment already high, opening restricted professions to non-Jordanians is a political minefield.

That's not the only barrier … Because employers may have more obligations toward an employee with a work permit, some may be reluctant to get them for their workers … Another source of reluctance could lie in attitudes to work. "There's a thing with the employers here, especially with migrant workers," Linda Kalash, the founder of Tamkeen, a migrant worker NGO, said. "They consider the workers as property" … Syrian workers [however, are] more likely to value control over their labor and pay. And no permit, Kalash said, means they are free to "leave at any time."  

The work for which permits are available isn't necessarily appealing to all Syrians either. This year the Better Work program - a partnership between the ILO and the International Finance Corporation - has worked to promote the garment sector as a viable source of employment for Syrian refugees, but the program so far has had limited success … "Syrians don't come to work in this sector because it's far from their houses," Kalash explained, adding that the sector's average pay of 190 dinar (257 euros/$268) a month is simply not enough to survive in Jordan.

 

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