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Amman, Jordan

Discriminatory development aid – a look at Jordan Syria Refugee Response

Amid persistent crises within and surrounding the Middle East, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has risen as a leading global host for refugees. Collectively, the nation hosts over 3 million refugees and migrants originating from Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, and Palestine. Shaddin Almasri explores the differential treatment of migrants based on race and ethnicity within Jordan’s labor sector with a central focus on the Jordan Refugee Response Plan.



Political Cartoon


Cartoon Credits: Othman Selmi

The landscape of laws and regulations governing refugee assistance and access to work is convoluted and difficult to navigate. A refugee’s national origin, mode of entry, gender, and prior class status are all factors that can limit or facilitate someone’s access to basic resources and support. The many wars that have driven waves of refugees into Jordan, and the mix of donor agencies with differing priorities, exacerbates this issue.


Discriminatory development aid – a look at Jordan Syria Refugee Response by Shaddin Almasri

Fall 2023

In June 2023, eight farm workers died in a traffic collision in Jordan. The workers were Syrian refugees who were being transported from an agricultural work site in Mafraq on the back of an overcrowded truck.

Dangerous commutes are a daily reality for farm workers in Jordan, where the lives of migrant laborers from Syria, Egypt, Sudan and elsewhere intersect with those of poor Jordanians. During these commutes, workers are often packed into pickup trucks in groups of twenty or more and driven along rough back roads to avoid police because the trucks are unlicensed, or only licensed for the transport of crops and other goods.

While the conditions are equally unsafe for all precarious workers regardless of their national origin, programs like the agricultural work site are part of a refugee response that has increasingly focused on national origin and access to labor, pitting Syrian refugees against other refugee and migrant worker populations.

Jordan currently hosts some 2.9 million refugees and asylum seekers, including those registered with UNHCR and UNRWA. International donors and Jordan’s allies, like the United States, have long supported the monarchy’s security interests in exchange for its containment of refugee populations. Around 2015, the European Union entered the scene as a key player. Following the largescale movement of migrants and refugees, especially Syrians, to Europe, EU governments—in an effort to keep migrants away from their own borders—provided increased aid and incentives to Jordan for its cooperation in containment.

Containment was presented as a win-win situation: Jordan, a relatively small country in need of human capital could attract the support of EU governments in exchange for hosting populations and adding them to its workforce.

Notably, however, the policies that emerged from these negotiations with Jordan—embodied by the Jordan Compact, an agreement reached in 2016—focused only on Syrian refugees and their Jordanian hosts. In creating jobs and support for Syrian refugees, they have created distinct classes of refugees whose benefits are based largely on their national origin. Other vulnerable groups in Jordan, including long-standing refugee populations from Palestine and Iraq as well as migrant workers from Egypt, had no place in the newly reconfigured refugee response.

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