What to expect from Jordan’s influx of Syrian refugees

What to expect from Jordan’s influx of Syrian refugees

In light of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria, hundreds of thousands of refugees have invariably effected short- and medium-term economic changes in countries like Lebanon and Jordan. What’s next for Syrian refugees in Jordan, which make up almost one-tenth of the local population?

The regional effects of the spread of Syrian refugees have been significant since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, when the flow of 5,000 refugees to Lebanon began in April 2011.

UN estimates earlier this year placed the number of those internally displaced by the conflict, as well as refugees, first in the world in terms of total population (over 2.5 million refugees, in addition to 6.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs)), before South Sudan (2.5 million) and the Central African Republic (950,000), making the Syrian civil war the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.

Of the neighbouring countries, Lebanon faces the heaviest burden, but Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and Iraq could also experience after-effects related to the influx of refugees.

Jordan’s regional position in flux

Jordan, a close ally of the U.S. and the Gulf monarchies, is a non-oil economy and heavily dependent on financial aid and remittances from Jordanian workers in the Gulf states. Although its political system has been fairly stable since 2011, when calls for democratic transition rocked many other countries in the Middle East (including, briefly, Jordan), Jordan’s economy remains un-diversified, with a low level of private investment and a high rate of youth unemployment.

While Jordan’s economic outlook improved on almost all factors in 2014, including consumption and a rise in exports, the country continues to be a net importer of oil and petroleum products, making it highly vulnerable to price fluctuations.

Despite its stability, the Jordanian economy is smaller than Lebanon’s, whose GDP outmatched the Hashemite state’s in 2013 by $11 billion, at $44 billion. Jordan’s population of Syrian refugees is also currently the second highest in proportion to the country’s total population after Lebanon, a small country with its own troubled history with Syrian intervention that is currently grappling with the significant economic effects of its refugee population.

Jordanian reluctance to help in anti-Islamic State struggle

Part of the reason Jordanians have found it increasingly politically difficult to negotiate the continuing presence of Syrian refugees is that the foreign policy stance of the country has been reticent to seem too eager to join in the regional effort to fight against the Islamic State (IS).

The effects of protracted civil war have strengthened a Syrian war economy that has direct effects on the ability of IS to pursue its goals, including in Jordan.

Still, Jordan has benefited in three ways from the civil war. First, it has benefited from an influx of skilled Syrian refugees that have applied their numerous skills to bolster the Jordanian private sector.

Second, private investment has shifted from Syria to Jordan as a result of the civil war. Jordanian economist Yusuf Mansur identified a trend towards a shift in investment from war-torn Syria to neighbouring countries.

Third, Jordan’s history as a country of first resort for refugees means it has developed means of benefiting from its medium- and longer-term refugee populations.

About Author

Amelie Meyer-Robinson

Amelie has worked at the German Committee on Foreign Affairs, the OSCE and the G8 Research Group at the University of Toronto. She is a graduate of the London School of Economics and the University of Toronto - Trinity College.