Syrian refugee children return to school at Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan

Challenges Facing Syrian Refugees and Jordan: Pressures From a Pandemic — Summary Report

This study is based on the work of three researchers and their colleagues in the region. Professor Rasha Istaiteyeh, an economist at The Hashemite University, analyzed the impact of COVID-19 on Jordan’s economy with a particular focus on policies toward Syrian refugees. Oroub El-Abed and Nuseibah Shabaitah, both of the Centre for Lebanese Studies in Amman, carried out interviews with Syrian refugees in Jordan to analyze the effects of the pandemic on their livelihoods. Dr. Omar Asfour, a Syrian public health expert, working with Dr. Hosam Allaham, analyzed the impact of COVID-19 on Syria, distinguishing between the pandemic’s impact in government and non-government-controlled areas.

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

In the first section of this summary report, a summary of Professor Rasha Istaiteyeh’s extensive report on the economic impact of COVID-19 on Syrian refugees in Jordan is presented. It begins with an overview of the Jordanian economy, as well as the procedures undertaken by the Jordanian government to limit the spread of COVID-19, and the short- and long-term effects of the virus on Jordan’s economy. The report then provides a comprehensive overview of the situation of Syrian refugees in Jordan, including the Jordanian government’s response towards Syrian refugees during COVID-19, and specific analysis of how Syrian livelihoods and participation in the labour market are impacted by the pandemic.

In the second section of the report, a summary of Oroub El-Abed’s and Nuseibah Shabaitah’s analysis of the available options for Syrian refugees in Jordan during the COVID-19 pandemic is provided. This begins with an overview of the Syrian crisis and pre-COVID-19 Syria, and then looks specifically at the impact of the pandemic on Syrian refugee livelihoods from the refugee perspective, using qualitative interviews and insights from Syrian refugees in Jordan.

In the third and final section, a summary is provided of Dr. Omar Asfour and Dr. Hosam Allaham’s illustration of the consequences of COVID-19 on health systems in Jordan and in Syria, comparing the COVID-19 response effort in Jordan to that across Syria’s fragmented health systems. This starts with report an overview of the Syrian crisis before COVID-19 and considers the adverse consequences of COVID-19 on health systems, economies and overall conditions in both Jordan and Syria, and its implications for voluntary and involuntary refugee return in the current context.

Concluding Thoughts

The triple pressures presently facing Jordan are considerable: the public health emergency due to COVID-19; the economic effects of containment measures and the global recession; and the growing number of Syrian refugees, many of whom have been in the country for almost 10 years. As the report by Rasha Isaiteyeh emphasizes, while some donors have provided additional support to Jordan, further resources are needed. Omar Asfour and Husam Allaham reports shows the prospects for return to Syria continue to be dim — particularly given the lack of adequate reporting on the extent of the coronavirus particularly in the areas to which Syrian refugees will presumably return one day. And as the report by Oroub El-Abed and Nuseibah Shabaitah concludes, even as conditions for Syrian refugees in Jordan decline, most Syrians do not see return as a viable option at this point.

These are tough times for refugees around the world as governments face intensifying pressures to extend services to their citizens in light of the pandemic and as traditional donors encounter increased needs on all fronts and in all regions. In these situations, refugees will do what they have always done in tough times — they will rely on family and friends, they will likely incur more debt, they will eat less and seek work in more precarious and perhaps more dangerous jobs. Syrian refugees have faced less stigma and discrimination in Jordan than in many other countries. But there is a danger that if the pandemic continues to claim lives, stress health systems and deplete government budgets, popular sentiment may become less hospitable toward the refugees.

Against this backdrop, the WRMC, with the support of the International Research Development Centre, will carry out further research in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to identify new ways of increasing international support for refugee-hosting countries particularly through trade, investment and non-traditional opportunities.