October 5 2022 4:39 AM E-paper Subscribe Sign in My Account Sign out

Jordan-hosted Syrian refugees ‘may stay for 10 more years’

IRC official advises non-discriminatory approach to avoid ‘competitive environment’

IRc beekeeping refugees syrian
Khadeeja, a participant in the IRC's economic recovery and development program, has been passionate about bee keeping and learnt the trade from her father. (Photo: IRC)
AMMAN — The Syrian refugee crisis shows no sign of an imminent end, and the hundreds of thousands of refugees hosted by Jordan may stay for another 10 years, an international organization’s official has said.اضافة اعلان

In an interview with Jordan News, Sharifa Sarra Ghazi, the International Rescue Committee’s country director in Jordan, said: “I can imagine that we will be marking 20 years of the Syrian crisis, unfortunately, and that really is something very hard to say,” she said.

The UN estimated in the early years of the conflict that the refugee problem might stay unresolved for 17 years.

Country Director Ghazi pointed out that destruction, violence, and poverty in Syria mean that most Syrian refugees do not intend to return in the near future, presenting a number of challenges for Jordan’s economic development, which has struggled to adapt to the influx of Syrian refugees that began 10 years ago.

International aid organizations and governments alike must adapt to provide viable economic solutions for refugees, she said in the interview, as the world marks Labor Day. 

She cautioned that if jobs and better living conditions are not created for all, there might emerge a “ somewhat competitive environment between Jordanians and non-Jordanians, that in itself will create a very insecure society.”

She also pointed out that the combination of a high number of youth and refugees in Jordan will increase strain on the country’s economy.

“The number of jobs we have to create over the next two decades just for the youth is enormously challenging. And then coupled with that the non-Jordanian family that we have in the country that just compounds the problem.”

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is a global nonprofit working in 40 countries to provide humanitarian aid, relief, and development. The organization, originally founded in New York in 1933, now serves refugees and people displaced by war, persecution, or natural disaster.

In response to the said challenges facing Jordan as a host and the international community, she explained that one of the approaches her organization is adopting is that “we look at a community as a whole” rather than dividing beneficiaries based on their nationality and/or status.

“We are moving away from responding to the needs according to status in the country, according to nationality,” Ghazi said. “It is about true empowerment, and solutions for a whole community that can then become independent, innovative and self-sustained.”

Ghazi explained that the organization provides economic recovery and development for its beneficiaries through a variety of mechanisms, including job training and small business grants. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization developed a business continuity plan to allow clients forced to close their business during the pandemic to reopen them again; 26 business owners received an emergency grant averaging $1,000.

Speaking to the importance of economic support, said: “When you look at the individual, everybody has the right to live a dignified life,” Ghazi said. “And the only way of doing that is to be independent, to be resilient, and to be self-sufficient. When you look at a country, the country depends on the people to be independent, resilient, and self-sustainable.”

Ghazi also described the importance of the IRC’s local and international partnerships. The organization currently has 21 partnerships in Jordan, she said, a value which has quadrupled in the last year. But she explained that the partnerships have entailed a learning curve.

“We have been guilty before of sort of looking at them as service providers. And that is not partnership; that is almost like me signing a contract and having somebody do a job for you,” she said. “Now, what we do is we actually develop programs together, we look for opportunities together, and we grow together.” She explained that as the organization nears its 100th anniversary, “it’s an organization that has a wealth of experience. And we are very committed to sharing that experience. Because that is how we believe that we can have a much stronger and better impact in the country.” Rather than an IRC-based approach, she described their approach as “a nation-wide participatory and partnership-based approach. The most crucial partner in this whole thing is the beneficiary.”

One key area for partnerships is the private sector. Ghazi quoted an Arabic saying that “one hand does not clap alone.” “In this case, it’s many hands, all of us have a big part to play in coordination, and actually, again, finding the best way forward.” However, she noted that the “partnership in itself is difficult because the situation is difficult. ... Immediately it’s more attractive in a way to employ Jordanians because you don’t have to do work permits, you don’t have to do this, it’s much easier. We understand the challenges that the private sector has when it comes to employing non-Jordanians.” She explained that “we are studying very closely and advocating and trying to find ways forward, where it’s not an ‘either or’ competition.”

The pandemic has exacerbated existing social inequalities, according to Ghazi. “I think that as a whole society, everybody is struggling,” she said. “Everybody has been impacted in some way. ... Any form of vulnerability has only been made worse, and any community or person who has any form of vulnerability immediately becomes weaker in a context such as COVID-19, unfortunately.”

For the IRC, the pandemic has also provided an unexpected silver lining. “There are many small communities across the country who don’t have access to us as an organization or as a whole sector or as any service provider, and we don’t have access to them,” Ghazi said, explaining that the switch to online services  for IRC's beneficiaries living outside of the camps in urban areas has actually encouraged the organization to make its services accessible to beneficiaries across the country.

According to Ghazi, some beneficiaries have themselves reported, feeling more comfortable with online services. “One of the reasons is that they don’t have transportation costs anymore. It’s something as simple as that. Just a few piasters here and there to get to our center, they don’t have that luxury anymore. That’s one of the adaptations we have to bear in mind.”

The organization is adapting so that “anyone in any area of the country, as long as they have access to a platform or phone with connectivity, they have equal access to the services we provide,” a change accelerated by the pandemic.

She added that the concentration of activity in urban centers presents challenges in finding jobs for many people living outside those centers, in addition to preventing them from accessing services like those of the IRC."

“Opportunities need to be opened up in different governorates in different villages, and smaller towns and cities across the country so that we don’t have the big concentration in the very big urban centers.”

“Hope is a really important part of the fabric of what makes us human,” Ghazi concluded. “When you lose hope, you lose your willingness to live. ... And that is what we all have to be able to do, to allow people to have hope and then take that one step further and make sure those hopes and dreams are actually followed through and become a reality.”

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