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As the international community struggles with the Syrian refugee crisis, many are looking at Jordan's courageous position in absorbing as many as a million and a half Syrians as guests of the kingdom.
While this hospitality has been duly recognized and rewarded, the longevity of the Syrian conflict is forcing all players to rethink the policy towards the Syrian refugees. What was thought to be a short term crisis that would end with the happy return back to Syria is turning out to be a long-term conflict that requires more than immediate housing, food and medical aid.
Alexandra Francis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has produced an important study on the issue and has suggested a number of takeaways that Jordan would do well adhering to. She recommends integrating development and humanitarian aid, maintaining protection space for refugees, formalizing access to livelihoods and empowering local governance actions as they integrate capacity building programs that help deliver services to the Jordanian population as well as to Syrian refugees.
The challenges facing Jordan are made even more acute as the slow but steady political reform process has resulted in a relatively progressive election law that has been welcomed by Jordanian democrats and civil society.
Jordan must have a long-term relationship with its Syrian guests, otherwise, it will face problems.
Jordan is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee treaty and therefore doesn't have the obligations of turning the temporary guests into asylum seekers. But Jordan is a signatory to the convention against torture which forbids the kingdom from sending individuals to a country that might torture them.
Court documents reportedly connected to the Jordanian government revealed by the book "Radio al Balad" have shown that the issue of refugees is one handled by the Ministry of Interior and thus it is impossible to know exactly how many Syrians are in Jordan and how many have been sent back in contravention of the torture convention and in violation of the agreement Jordan has signed with the UNHCR.
As the stay of the Syrians in Jordan continues without a solution in sight, there is no running away from the need for a much wider discussion about the mid to long-term solutions.
The issue of opening up the job market to Syrians has taken up a lot of the public discussion in a country with double digit unemployment. Many observers have noted that Syrians are very good at creating jobs rather than replacing Jordanians and that the cheap labor that Syrian refugees fill up takes away jobs of Egyptian laborers rather Jordanians.
Until a solution is found to the civil war, Jordan and its friends from around the world must find the mid to long-term solutions for the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who for the time being have made Jordan their home.
An international conference by Chatham House and Jordan's Identity Center on the long-term status of Syrians revealed a desire by local government officials for easing the strict labor laws that forbid work for Syrian guests. Mayors from northern Jordanian towns and cities were complaining that many Syrian businesspeople are willing to provide jobs for Syrians and Jordanians if the country easies its policies regarding Syrian employment. At present it is difficult for a Syrian to get a work permit, although there are many working illegally at below minimum wages.
The difficulty facing the government of Jordan stems in part from the ignorance of the public, which in turn produces hate speech and stereotyping of Syrians. A concerted effort to deal with this is needed and a number of donors have stepped up and identified this area as one that should be addressed before words turn into actions and result in unnecessary tensions for the country.
Finding the right balance between opening up the job market for Syrians while also making sure that Jordanians who want to work at different levels are given an opportunity is possible. But this requires a wise leadership that refuses to keep its head in the sand and is fully aware of the destructive policy of keeping Syrians closed in and jobless.
Jordanians and the international community understand that the most important long-term solution to the Syrian refugee crisis is a resolution to the civil war raging across Jordan's northern borders. But until such a time that a solution is found that brings back stability and economic viability, Jordan, working with its friends from around the world, must find the mid to long-term solutions for the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who for the time being have made Jordan their home.
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