Between Two Outbreaks: Syrian Refugees and the Consequences of COVID-19 in Syria and Jordan

Omar Asfour and Hosam Allaham

It has been a decade of conflict, destruction and suffering for Syrians both inside Syria and beyond its borders. The Syrian conflict has resulted in one of the most catastrophic humanitarian crises in recent memory. Nearly 6.6 million Syrians have been displaced within their own country and over 5.5 million are refugees in neighbouring countries and around the world. Everyone in Syria has lost something or someone. The country’s resources and infrastructure are annihilated, the health-care system is in fragments and the economy is on the verge of complete collapse.

WRMC Research Papers on the Impact of COVID-19 on Syrian Refugees in Jordan:

Refugees from Syria living in neighbouring countries, such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, have fled the violence and persecution in their home country only to find and cope with other challenging conditions. These conditions vary by the respective host country’s capacities and policies. Some hosts are more welcoming than others. Jordan has had its fair share of internal socio-economic challenges over the past 20 years, including an already strained economy and limited infrastructures that have been further challenged by the influx of Syrian refugees. The massive amounts of humanitarian aid channelled into the Jordanian economy were not proportionate to the needs of hosting incoming refugees, and this gap has increased with the protracted timeline of the crisis. Both the Jordanian government and the respective humanitarian organizations responding to the refugee crisis are fatigued, particularly as no foreseeable solutions are in sight.

Both Syria and Jordan have been impacted by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which has significantly altered the modern way of living in these countries and around the world. Each government has responded differently, but both are experiencing tangible consequences of the pandemic on their countries’ economy, health and society. Jordanian authorities opted for a strict response to prevent their health services from being overwhelmed, but this response seriously affected the country’s economy. However, inside Syria, the fragmented governance, depleted health-care system and collapsing economy led to a weak response that is having catastrophic health consequences. The adverse consequences of the pandemic in these respective contexts, alongside changing global priorities, have made it more challenging to meet the humanitarian needs of vulnerable populations around the world. Already in need, the COVID-19 crisis has made these populations even more exposed to discrimination and poverty and has highlighted their lack of access to basic services.

This report examines the available options for Syrian refugees in Jordan during the COVID-19 pandemic. Refugees in Jordan have already been subject to the strict measures intended to limit the impact of COVID-19, including restrictions on their movement from camps to the larger community and in between cities and communities. For example, refugees who lived in the camps and had jobs outside the camps were not allowed to leave the camps for work. These measures have resulted in severe economic consequences that disproportionately hit Syrian refugees. The Jordanian government and its economy may not have the capacity to keep hosting and supporting refugees without the funding necessary to do so. Syria, on the other hand, remains in conflict and is in economic turmoil amidst an uncontained COVID-19 outbreak. The health-care system is inadequately equipped to respond to the needs of the population, let alone those who are particularly vulnerable. Prices are soaring, and the currency is in a state of progressive devaluation. Ongoing fighting and unrest between armed groups continues to drive internal displacement and to cause significant concerns for the protection of the population, particularly women, children, young men at risk of military conscription, those with disabilities and the elderly.

The report begins with a brief analysis of the Syrian crisis before COVID-19. A general overview of the COVID-19 pandemic is followed by discussion of the impact of COVID-19 on Syria and Jordan. The report is based primarily on a desk review of publicly available humanitarian reports and documents. Most documents were published and produced by humanitarian actors in both Syria and Jordan during the pandemic through August 2020. The desk review was supplemented with informal conversations with humanitarian stakeholders working inside Syria. These conversations were mostly conducted through Skype.