Jordan: How long can the country maintain social peace?
The Kingdom of Jordan has been hosting large numbers of refugees for decades. But the civil war in neighboring Syria is now pushing the small Arab state to its limits, and social tensions are rising. What can the country do to avert a crisis?
Last stop: Jordan. Some 6.6 million Jordanians live in this small country surrounded by powerful neighbors such as Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt. More than half are of Palestinian descent, meaning they or their families fled from the Palestinian Territories. In other words, Jordan has been used to hosting newcomers for decades. The civil war in neighboring Syria, however, has caused the number of refugees and economic migrants to rise dramatically. More than one million Syrians, including 660,000 refugees, now reside in the country – a major challenge for the small nation.
Jordan closed its border with Syria following a suicide attack carried out by the Islamic State (ISIS) in June. Nevertheless, the resource-poor country is clearly overwhelmed by the large number of refugees. It has never implemented a strategic immigration policy – a lapse the country is now paying for. Jordan is not a party to the Geneva Convention on Refugees, nor has it passed laws on asylum or refugees and the latter are therefore considered "guests."
As a result, the situation of the Syrian refugees in Jordan is, in many cases, a cause for concern. Few have been issued work permits and 90 percent are living near the poverty line. In addition, they often lack access to health care and many of their children are not enrolled in school.
At the same time, the influx of refugees is exacerbating social tensions. A majority of Jordanians also live in near-poverty, the economy has stalled and one million people are unemployed. Many people are confronted with an additional burden: the combination of high living costs and low wages. The unresolved Palestinian issue complicates things further. Jordan’s rulers are using the threat of terrorism to gradually restrict the rights of the country’s citizens and parliament, leading to low voter turnout and a frustrated younger generation. Hundreds of thousands of newcomers have arrived from Syria alone, making the daily struggle for work, housing, energy, education and health care even more competitive.
Numerous domestic and international initiatives are helping to the best of their abilities and preventing Jordanian society from collapsing entirely. The EU has long supported the country financially and will be contributing €1 billion in 2016 and 2017 alone. In the long term, however, these efforts will not suffice.
Which practical steps must Jordan's policy makers and royal rulers take if they want to achieve a sustainable improvement for both the native population and the refugees? How can Europe continue to provide meaningful assistance? And which projects being carried out by civil society have proven particularly effective? Our analysis provides answers to these questions and others.
About our series
Each month our series "Facts on the European Dimension of Displacement and Asylum" examines a different country affected by the current refugee situation. In addition to issues relating to displaced persons and human rights, each country's degree of democratization is analyzed in detail and its relationship with the European Union discussed. The analysis also examines possibilities for cooperating with Brussels. The past six reports looked at Turkey, Ukraine, Libya, Syria, Morocco and Lebanon. Future reports will detail the situation in the Balkans.
In order to assess recent developments, our expert, Christian Hanelt, travels to the affected areas whenever possible to speak with the people living there.