On 20 March, a Bangladeshi migrant working at a small eatery in the coastal Jordanian city of Aqaba complained to me about how little the jobs there paid, leaving “hardly anything to send home,” even as he conceded that “at home, I might not even get a job.” It was a sentiment echoed by not only the majority of migrant workers I spoke to—mostly Palestinians, Syrians, South Asians, Filipinos and Egyptians—but by the Jordanians themselves. There was palpable disappointment in the air because of the lack of jobs and meagre salaries. The government holds an ongoing refugee crisis partially responsible for the domestic situation, but the residents of Jordan no longer buy this explanation.
During an interview at the World Economic Forum, on 24 January, the prime minister, Omar Razzaz, admitted that Jordan was suffering from “neighbourhood effects”—a reference to the Syrian crisis, which has reshaped the demographics of the country, where one in three people is now a refugee. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey together host over three quarters of the 5.6 million registered Syrian refugees, who have fled their country following the crisis that has unfolded since 2011.
Although Turkey has taken in most of the Syrian refugees, Jordan and Lebanon—despite their relatively smaller size—host over a thousand Syrian refugees per 100,000 habitants. While Jordan’s government and the UNHCR have tried to ensure that the majority of the nearly seven hundred thousand registered Syrians in the country are housed outside of the country’s refugee camps, recent reports indicate that 80 percent of those outside the camps live below the poverty line, and more than half are unemployed.