The Economic Impact of COVID-19 on Syrian Refugees in Jordan

Rasha Istaiteyeh

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

The impact of “Coronomics” could signify the largest reversal in human development on record. The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had devastating influence on the world’s most vulnerable population — refugees and displaced persons. Of the 5,554,915 Syrian refugees around the world, 1.5 million presently reside in Jordan, either in refugee camps or in urban and rural areas.

Jordan is located in a volatile region that has witnessed many refugee and migration crises. The first Gulf War in 1990, the second Gulf War in 2005 and the Syrian conflict have all led to refugees seeking safety in Jordan, joining a large Palestinian refugee population dating back decades. In economic terms, Jordan is often described as a country with scarce natural resources, albeit one that has made a great investment in its human capital since the 1960s. This small rentier country faces many challenges. Its high dependency on foreign aid, weak agriculture and industrial sectors, and enormous public debt all place a heavy burden on the ability of this monarchy state to survive, let alone respond to the Syrian refugees who remain there.

Before the pandemic, Jordan was able to preserve a delicate balance of maintaining stability at the macro level, providing adequate services to its population, and maintaining and gaining the confidence of international institutions. The arrival of COVID-19 has increased the burden on all countries in coping with the economic, health and asocial consequences of the virus. The efforts devoted by the Jordanian government to confront this pandemic were impressive. However, Jordan’s relatively successful policies in defeating the virus came, in part, at the expense of freezing its economy. Even though only a few cases of COVID-19 have been registered in Syrian refugee camps as of September 30, 2020, the question remains:  can Jordan continue to host its Syrian neighbours in light of the additional pressures posed by the pandemic? 

The Jordan Response Plan (JRP), with the generous help of international organizations and the donor community, has been able to meet the basic needs of Syrian refugees, but support is needed beyond the material needs listed in the seven sectors of the JRP. In this regard, it should be noted that while the 1951 Refugee Convention obliges signatories to react in a “spirit of international co-operation,” it does not include specific obligations to support refugee-hosting countries, even if those hosting countries border a war zone, as in the case of Jordan (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR] 1951). 

This report analyzes the economic implications of COVID-19 for the Jordanian economy, including its diverse economic sectors and, most importantly, on its levels of poverty and inequality. It also surveys Jordan’s policies toward Syrian refugees, including provision of health, education and other essential services, as well as the impact on the livelihoods of Syrian refugees in Jordan. The report also considers the important question of whether present and future international assistance can mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the Jordanian economy and specifically on the ability of Jordan to continue hosting Syrian refugees.